Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Moros y Cristianos--black beans and rice.
Moros y Cristianos—Moors and Christians. An unlikely name for a pot of beans and rice. But these are black beans—the Moors—and white rice—the Christians. In Spain, they have a long history of dueling it out. (Clue: the Christians win.)

A moro in Spanish is an Arab, a Muslim, a Berber, a dark-skinned person, an invader, a pirate (as in, hay moros en la costa). To this day, it is insulting to call someone the M-word. Maybe not as vile as the N-word in English, but definitely not polite.

The rancor began some 1300 years ago. In 711, the Moors swarmed across the Straits of Gibraltar, swashbuckling their way across most of the country, as far as the French border, claiming the land for the caliph of Damascus. Their dominion over parts of the country was to last for almost 800 years.

The Reconquest by Christian armies began almost immediately. The shifting frontier between Moorish and Christian lands went on until the taking of the last Moorish kingdom of Granada by Ferdinand and Isabella at the end of the 15th Century (1492, to be exact).

The long struggle of the Reconquest is still commemorated with festivals reenacting famous battles between Moors and Christians, replete with costumes, trumpets, swords, charging horses.

This dish of black beans and rice, another reminder of that past, curiously, seems to have been adopted by Cubans. My version is vegetarian, but the bean pot could include chorizo or longaniza sausages. To confuse the racist plot, let me add that the dried beans are black before they are soaked and cooked, but dark brown after cooking.

Because I have extremely hard water, I always add a pinch of baking soda to the soaking water, so the beans soften more readily.

Black beans and White Rice

Serves 6.

1 pound black beans, soaked 
8 cups water
1 onion
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
10 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon pimentón (paprika)
1 teaspoon smoked pimentón
1 teaspoon hot pimentón
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 teaspoons salt
Chunks of pumpkin (optional)
1 orange
½ cup chopped onion
1 ½ cups long-grained rice
3 cups water
Sliced spring onion for garnish
Sliced orange for garnish

Drain the soaked beans. Put them to cook in the 8 cups of water with the quartered onion, sliced carrot and celery, crushed garlic and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, skim, then simmer, partially covered, until the beans are nearly tender, about one hour.

Mix together the three kinds of pimentón, 3 tablespoons of the oil, 2 teaspoons of salt and pepper and stir into the beans with the pumpkin, if using, and the juice of one orange. Cook until beans are tender, about 30 minutes more. Let the beans sit for 15 minutes. Ladle them with a skimmer into a serving bowl.

While the beans are cooking, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil in a pan and sautée the chopped onion until softened. Stir in the rice and sautée it until translucent. Add the water and 1 teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook until rice is tender, about 15 minutes. Allow to set 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Pack the rice into an oiled bowl or ring mold or individual molds. Unmold the rice onto the black beans. Garnish with parsley, sliced onion and orange.


  1. Yum...I love the combination of pumpkins and black beans. The name of this dish has always struck me as curious. It evokes so much more than just black beans and rice. At some Cuban restaurants I have been to in Florida, my home state, they cook the beans and rice together for this dish, which gives some of the brown color to the white rice. This version could lead to some interesting interpretations as well, don't you think?

  2. Ansley: Maybe if you mix moors and christians all together, you get-- Spain? or Cuba? Delicious, any which way. Does the Florida version have pork or other meat?