Cuban beans and rice, not to be confused with Puerto Rican or any other beans and rice, is easy and authentic and, thanks to black beans and bacon, results in something that’s definitely more than the sum of its parts.
Beans and rice is a staple dish in many cultures. But it’s something sorta special in Cuba, where it goes by the name congri. There are as many variations on congri as there are households, and this version holds true to tradition by cooking the rice for the last few minutes in the bean cooking broth the authentic Cuban way [Editor’s Note: Which is really quite brilliant]. The notable addition of bacon, onion, peppers, and spices—ingredients that we take for granted but that aren’t always available—take what could be a paltry pantry staple to really quite spectacular places.–Angie Zoobkoff
What can I add to Cuban beans and rice?
Cuban beans and rice already has the notable addition of bacon. Though it’s traditionally served simply, which is perfectly satisfying to us and in keeping with it’s humble origins, although you could choose to add some cilantro, cheese, sour cream, avocados, diced onions or salsa.
Cuban Beans and Rice
- 1 cup dried black beans
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 slices bacon coarsely chopped (about 100 g)
- 1 medium (7 oz) yellow onion diced
- 1 medium (7 oz) green bell pepper seeded and diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 cup long-grain white rice
- 1 3/4 cups store-bought or homemade chicken stock
- Place the beans in a large pot and cover with water by at least 3 inches (8 cm). Slide the pot in the refrigerator and let soak for at least 12 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Drain the beans and return them to the pot. Add enough fresh cold water to cover the beans by about 1 inch (2.5 cm), toss in the bay leaves, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and gently simmer until the beans are just tender, which can take anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes, depending on the age of your beans. Add the salt and continue to cook for 15 minutes more.
- Meanwhile, in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, sauté the bacon until the fat has rendered and the bacon is crisp, 10 to 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, move the bacon to a stack of paper towels placed on a plate.
- Add the onion and pepper to the pan and cook in the bacon fat until the vegetables soften, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin, and oregano and cook, stirring, just until the garlic softens and the spice is fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Dump in the rice and stir constantly for a couple minutes to completely coat the rice with the bacon drippings. Then pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pan, and cook until the liquid has been absorbed, 15 to 20 minutes.
- When the beans are done, drain them, reserving at least 1/2 cup of the bean cooking liquid. Stir the beans into the pan containing the rice and continue cooking over medium-low heat until the rice is tender, 5 to 15 minutes more. If you need more liquid to fully cook the rice, use the reserved bean cooking liquid. Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste with salt. Stir in the bacon and serve the beans and rice immediately.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We’d love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This Cuban beans and rice was a really easy main dish with great subtle flavors. Not including the overnight bean soaking, the recipe took about an hour and a half. Serves 6 to 8.
I’ll be adding this Cuban beans and rice recipe to my regular repertoire. This was easy, inexpensive, and delicious. While nice on its own, I also enjoyed it with steamed sweet potatoes and a tiny sprinkle of Cheddar cheese and I imagine that it’d be great with any number of additions.
Watch the rice closely as it cooks as mine was finished in less time than suggested. I diced my onion and green pepper into larger dice and I liked how it looked in the finished product with pretty green chunks to break up the sea of brown. If I make this again, I would probably reduce the salt added to the beans by 1/2 tsp or so because the finished product was just right, but on the cusp of too salty after adding some of the bean liquid.
Each of my tasters agreed that the rice and beans were delicious and they confirmed it by taking second and even third helpings. The flavors balanced well so that each forkful offered up a hint of each ingredient and the instructions were generally close, if not, spot on.
After soaking the beans overnight, I cooked them for about an hour, testing them periodically for tenderness, before adding the salt and simmering for an additional 15 minutes. In the completed dish, most of the beans were tender, but a few still had more bite than I would have preferred, so perhaps some more random testing during cooking would have kept the beans on the stove a bit longer and solved that problem.
I cooked the bacon for 10 minutes, after which I removed it from the pan to add back later before serving. Even with the bacon and stock, I felt that the dish needed a bit more salt, so I added 1/4 teaspoon and that was enough to bring the flavors out and complete the recipe. This was definitely worth the effort for a flavorful dish of comfort food on a cold night. In a pinch, if pressed for time, canned black beans might be a worthy substitute. This produced a substantial amount of beans and rice. Certainly enough for 6 servings with seconds.
This Cuban beans and rice recipe received a thumbs up from everyone at the table. All the flavors—the vegetables, the cumin, and the oregano—worked very well together. In addition, you could actually tell that they were all there.
When preparing bowls of the leftover Cuban beans and rice to go in the microwave, we sampled some and discovered that this dish is tasty cold as well as hot. The one thing that we decided for sure is that 3 slices of bacon weren’t enough for the amount of beans and rice. Texturally, the crisp bacon worked beautifully with the tender, but not too soft, beans and rice.
We ate this with salad but I can also see this going beautifully as a side dish for chicken or pork. This would definitely feed 6 to 8 people as a side dish. As a main course, I would say 4 to 6.
This Cuban beans and rice is absolutely a keeper recipe. It’s simple to make, feeds a village, and really comes through with flavor. We cut up chunks of roasted chicken and added it to the beans and rice once they were done and it turned into a very satisfying one-dish meal.
The liquid seemed to be a little shy so I ended up adding about 3 tablespoons additional broth to the rice. I only had about 1/2 cup liquid left over from cooking the beans and I added that, too. The canned broth I used was low-fat but not low-sodium and I felt the saltiness of the end product end was fine. I used turkey bacon, which worked fine, but it was sliced thinly so I ended up using 4 slices and probably could have added another.
Because the turkey bacon is so lean, I cooked it in olive oil. Between the bacon and the vegetables, I needed 2 tablespoons olive oil and I kept the bacon in the pan for the entire process. The timing estimates throughout the recipe were pretty much spot on. If this is a side dish, I’d say it serves more like 8 to 10. We ate it as a main dish with very generous servings and my husband went back for seconds and we still have easily half the recipe left over. Which is good because it is yummy.
We are people who like a bit of spice in their dishes so we added Cholula hot sauce at the table. If I make it again, I’ll absolutely increase the cumin a bit and probably add another bay leaf to the beans. I do think dried beans are important in this recipe. I think canned beans would be too mushy and ruin the dish.
The flavor of this Cuban beans and rice recipe is all about comfort food, and that was just what we welcomed on a stormy day. Other than the few minutes it takes to measure and sort your beans the night before and let them soak, this rice and beans recipe takes less than 2 hours from prep to serving. (If your beans are a bit older you might need longer, but presoaking usually evens out that variable.) The beans were tender in 40 to 45 minutes, then I added kosher salt and took them off the heat 15 minutes later and set them aside in their pot liquor.
Then I sautéed the onions and peppers until nice and translucent. After adding the garlic and herbs, the onion was picking up a little color and a bit of a fond was beginning on the bottom of the pot. I splashed in a bit of broth after coating the rice to make sure I deglazed it properly, then I added the remaining broth. I drained the beans and measured the liquor to be about 1 1/2 cups, so I had some leftover after adding 1/2 cup at the same time as the beans. After 15 minutes, the rice was just beginning to stick and almost scorch but not burn, so I added a splash (maybe 2 tablespoons) more bean liquor. I served this with a small wedge of lime in each bowl to brighten the flavors just a bit.
I might consider offering pickled jalapenos or hot cherry peppers as a bright accent. The smokiness of the bacon comes through without being too dominant. Everything is well balanced. Nothing about this tastes frugal and yet it is. It’s also the perfect recipe for winter. Leftovers might also easily play a supporting role in a burrito!
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
This version of Cuban beans and rice has a ton of flavor. While sautéed onions and peppers are often part of beans and rice, the bacon definitely takes it to another level. Garnishing the dish with your choice of chopped cilantro, sour cream, chopped avocado, tomatoes and/or some grated Cheddar will help make this dish a very satisfying and budget-friendly meal. As a side, you will easily get 6 to 8 servings.