Categories
Side Dish

Everyone will want to ‘congri’gate around your table for this dish

Congri
Congri is a beans and rice dish from Cuba. Some argue that traditional congri can’t be made with black beans, but this mixture was good enough that you probably won’t care.

An article by Eliana Rivero goes into great detail about some of the cultural dishes of Cuba, including a dish I decided to try for this week’s column, congri.

According to Rivero, “The name comes from the Creole French words congo and ris (beans and rice) to produce what today is widely consumed by Cubans in the diaspora (and in their Louisiana variation, Cajun red beans and rice).”

Except, after reading Rivero’s article, I discovered that there’s a lot of back and forth amongst Cubans about what actually constitutes congri. Some people, like her, claim it must be made with red beans, and others claim it can be made with black.

So, I’m putting it out there now that while what I made—a delicious black beans and rice dish—may not be considered congri by all Cubans, what I can promise is that it’s absolutely worth a try.

This comes from the website “Food52.” You can find the original post and a great personal story about the dish by Taryn Pire at https://food52.com/recipes/83081-congri-cuban-black-beans-and-rice. I doubled the seasonings in my version.

Congri
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Congri

Congri is a beans and rice dish from Cuba. Some argue that traditional congri can't be made with black beans, but this mixture was good enough that you probably won't care.
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Cuban
Keyword adobo, bay leaves, black beans, chorizo, congri, cumin, garlic, green bell pepper, white rice, yellow onion

Ingredients

  • 1 pound dried black beans
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 large green bell peppers diced
  • 1 medium yellow union diced
  • 8 to 10 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 9 to 12 ounces chorizo
  • 4 cups white rice
  • 2 tablespoons cumin
  • 2 tablespoons adobo seasoning
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  • The day before you cook your beans, rinse them well. Add them to a stock pot and add water until there’s about one inch covering them. Bring the pot to a boil, then remove them from heat, place a lid on the pot, and let them sit undisturbed until the next day.
  • When you’re ready to cook the beans, add more water to the pot—again, to about one inch covering them. Add the bay leaves and bring the pot to a boil. Turn the heat to a simmer and place the lid on the pot. (They’ll need to cook for 45 to 70 minutes.) Check the beans every 15 minutes or so to make sure there is still plenty of water in the pot. Add more, if necessary.
  • While the beans cook, heat the olive oil in another large stock pot over medium heat. Saute the peppers and onions until they are cooked through. Add the chorizo, chopping it up as it cooks. When the chorizo is nearly cooked through, add the garlic and uncooked rice. Stir well.
  • Add in the cumin and adobo, stir well, and then remove the mixture from the heat until the beans are cooked through. (To test the beans, fish one out, let it cool, and try it. You want it to be easy to bite without being complete mush.)
  • When the beans are done, remove them from the heat. Drain the beans, but reserve six cups of the bean broth (if there isn’t enough, add water until you get six cups). Discard the bay leaves. Add the bean broth and beans to the pot with the rice.
  • Bring the pot to a boil, put the burner on low, and place a lid on the pot. Let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Stir the mixture well. If the mixture is soupy, let it cook a bit longer, with the lid off, to evaporate the liquid to your desired level. Generally, congri is a drier dish, with little to no liquid. Add salt to taste and serve.

This was flavorful and super delicious. It makes a ton, too. I made a batch and a half and couldn’t even fit all of it into my large crockpot for a group meal we had.

It’s perfect as a side dish, especially with something that has some sauce with it—like enchiladas or chili con carne. You can also eat it alone, although I’d think it would be best with a little salsa added to the mix.

I may not have actually accomplished historically accurate congri, but I did manage to create a delicious dish with plenty of leftovers for us to enjoy for the rest of the week, so I’m not going to worry too much about labels.

This piece first appeared in print on Aug. 11, 2022.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Main Dish

Avocado tuna salad pits spouses against each other

Avocado tuna salad is packed with yummy vegetables, along with the creamy addition of Greek yogurt and ripe avocado.

Joey and I love to prepare meals together. He’s a great cook in his own right, so we take turns with one of us cooking while the other helps with prep work.

Well, that’s most of the time.

For this week’s recipe, I was all on my own. As soon as Joey heard the words “tuna salad,” he was out.

I tried to explain to him that it was mayonnaise free, since he has a very vocal dislike of the condiment, but he said just the idea that tuna salad is normally laden with tons of mayo meant he was going to make himself a nice turkey sandwich for lunch instead.

Oh, well. More for me.

I kind of went rogue on this recipe, but it was inspired by a recipe from Carrie Walder at her blog, “Walder Wellness.” I took her base and subtracted a little and added a little to land on my version. You can find the original post at https://www.walderwellness.com/no-mayo-high-protein-tuna-salad.

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Avocado Tuna Salad

Avocado tuna salad is packed with yummy vegetables, along with the creamy addition of Greek yogurt and ripe avocado.
Course Main Course
Keyword avocado, English cucumber, garlic powder, Greek yogurt, green bell pepper, tuna, tuna salad

Ingredients

  • 5 ounces tuna packed in water
  • 1 medium-sized avocado
  • 5.3 ounces plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 cup English cucumber diced
  • 1/2 cup green bell pepper diced
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Drain the tuna extremely well.
  • In a bowl, mash the avocado with a fork, and then add all of the ingredients. Stir well and then taste to see if there’s anything else you need to add.
  • Serve immediately on bread or as a wrap with additional vegetables as desired (I did mine with fresh spinach and a few more slices of cucumber). Refrigerate any leftovers.

I really, really liked this. I like regular tuna salad, too, but this had a little bit of a tang from the yogurt and tons of fresh flavor from the cucumbers and green peppers.

The only drawback was when I went to eat the leftovers. Because the cucumbers and green peppers have so much water in them, there was quite a bit of liquid in the bottom of my container the day after I made this. I drained it off and still had a great wrap, but I think it was much more delicious when it was first made.

This would also be very easy to customize, depending on your favorite veggies and maybe what’s growing in your summer garden over the next few months. This is already pretty full of protein, but you could add eggs, too, if you wanted a bit more.

I probably won’t ever give up traditional tuna salad, and Joey will still have to deal with having a jar of mayonnaise in the refrigerator for the rest of our marriage, but using an avocado and Greek yogurt instead was a nice change of pace. Plus, it was kind of nice that I didn’t have to share.

This piece first appeared in print on May 5, 2022.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Main Dish Salad Side Dish

Customizable pasta dish is worth every ‘penne’

Greek pasta salad is extremely customizable for all kinds of diets and preferences, with lots of fresh vegetables and a light, flavorful dressing.

I’ve written before that I have some random, mostly mild food allergies that make certain recipes difficult for me.

Specifically, tomatoes cause me trouble, and I have to limit how often I include them in my diet, no matter how much I love them.

Because of that, I’m sympathetic to readers who sometimes email me and ask if I’d be willing to throw something gluten free or dairy free into the paper so they can try a new recipe, too. I definitely sympathize with people who have much more serious food intolerances than I do; it’s tough to keep food interesting.

With that said, the recipe I included this week can easily be made gluten free, dairy free and vegan, if you so desire. You’ll only need to do a few quick swaps or deletions to make it happen, and it’s all ingredients that you can easily find in your local grocery store.

This comes from the blog “Strength and Sunshine” by Rebecca Pytell. You can find the original post at https://strengthandsunshine.com/gluten-free-greek-pasta-salad-vegan/. I changed up the ingredients and proportions a bit and added extra garlic, too.

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Greek Pasta Salad

Greek pasta salad is extremely customizable for all kinds of diets and preferences, with lots of fresh vegetables and a light, flavorful dressing.
Course Salad
Keyword black olives, English cucumber, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, gluten-free, green bell pepper, Kalamata olives, mozzarella, oregano, penne pasta, red bell pepper, red onion, red wine vinegar, vegan, vegetarian

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces penne pasta
  • 1 English cucumber cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 green bell pepper chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper chopped
  • 1/2 small red onion thinly sliced
  • 6 ounces black or Kalamata olives halved
  • 16 ounces mozzarella cheese cubed
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Prepare all of the vegetables and cheese and add to a very large serving bowl.
  • While you prepare the veggies, boil the pasta according to package directions. Drain it and run cold water over the pasta.
  • Add the cold, drained pasta to the bowl and stir to combine the ingredients.
  • In a small bowl, whisk the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, oregano, garlic and salt and pepper with a fork, and then pour it over top of the pasta mixture.
  • Toss to evenly coat all of the ingredients with the oil mixture, cover, and let the salad marinate for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
  • Serve cold or at room temperature, and store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

If you go to the original recipe author for this, you’ll notice that I left a pint of tomatoes out of my version (for obvious reasons). I also decided to use whole grain pasta in mine, which made me feel like it was a bit healthier, too.

This was a great lunch, and it makes a ton of food. I’ve been eating on this salad all week long for lunch, and it’s been fabulous. It is lightly dressed and has lots of different flavors with all the vegetables.

I also hope it fits the bill for something new for those of you who have some food intolerances. With the weather warming up, a good pasta salad is a great recipe to have on hand, and nobody should have to miss out on a good lunch.

This piece first appeared in print on April 14, 2022.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Main Dish

A gift of casserole is not easy to ‘spaghett’

Baked spaghetti is an easy-to-assemble casserole that can be baked right away or frozen for a future meal.

Whenever a friend or family member is under the weather or hurt or grieving, one of my first inclinations is to try to feed them. 

An article from 2016 by Adam McDaniel lays out the reasons human beings love to share food—part of it being sharing culture and part of being sociology.

“Food has a knack for bringing people together, forging bonds and creating conversation,” he wrote.

Sharing food is a way for us to help understand one another, and in the case of a sick or injured friend, I would argue that it’s one of the few ways I feel like I can nurture someone—since I’ve decided to forgo getting a medical degree.

That desire to care for someone is the reason this week’s recipe is absolutely perfect. It’s not only an easy weeknight dinner that is a true crowd pleaser, but it’s easy to toss in the freezer to enjoy later—making it a great gift when someone might need an extra meal at their house.

This comes from the blog “The Cozy Cook.” You can find the original post at https://thecozycook.com/baked-spaghetti/. I changed up some of the amounts of ingredients and the herbs and spices in my version.

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Baked Spaghetti

Baked spaghetti is an easy-to-assemble casserole that can be baked right away or frozen for a future meal.
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Keyword basil, bell pepper, casserole, cream cheese, freezer meal, garlic, green onion, ground beef, ground sausage, marinara sauce, mozzarella, oregano, parmesan, parsley, ricotta, spaghetti

Ingredients

  • 16 ounces spaghetti
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground sausage
  • 1 medium yellow onion diced
  • 1 medium green bell pepper diced
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic minced
  • 32 ounces marinara sauce
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese
  • 2 tablespoons cream cheese
  • 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 4 cups mozzarella cheese

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees (If you’re baking this right away. It can also be prepared for the fridge or freezer.). Prepare a 9-by-13-inch baking dish by spraying it with cooking spray, and set it aside.
  • Cook pasta according to package instructions.
  • In a large skillet, brown the hamburger and sausage over medium heat until cooked through, crumbling as you cook. Drain any excess fat.
  • Add in the onion, pepper, basil, oregano, parsley, salt and pepper, and saute until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the garlic and saute for about one more minute.
  • Add the marinara sauce, ricotta, parmesan and cream cheese. Reduce the heat to low, and stir constantly until the cheese is melted and all of the ingredients are well-combined.
  • Add the cooked, drained pasta and stir to coat all of the pasta with the sauce.
  • Add half of the pasta to the prepared dish, and top it with half of the mozzarella. Add the other half of the pasta, and finish with the rest of the mozzarella.
  • If refrigerating or freezing, cover the dish with a double layer of aluminum foil. If not, bake uncovered for 15 minutes or until the cheese is melted and just starting to brown around the edges. Let the casserole sit for about five minutes before digging in.
  • If you’re baking it later, let it thaw in the refrigerator, and then bake for 25 to 30 minutes covered and then uncovered for an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and starting to brown around the edges.

This was cheesy and warm and very simple—everything I look for in a quick weeknight meal. In my case, I made a double batch, baking one for Joey and I that night and assembling another to deliver to someone I thought could use a night off from cooking.

If you decide to follow suit, I highly recommend using a large stock pot to cook in. I ended up having some trouble with fitting all the ingredients in my large skillet.

And even if you don’t have someone to deliver this to, you might make a double batch and freeze one for yourself for a future evening that you need a night off.

Sometimes a gift to yourself can be just as comforting. 

This piece first appeared in print on Feb. 18, 2021.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

Categories
Main Dish Side Dish

Yummy Puerto Rican food will help you have a ‘rice’ day

Puerto Rican rice and beans are full of rich flavors, and while they may use some ingredients not standard in a stereotypical Kansas kitchen, they are definitely worth a try.

Often, I launch this column by telling you a story that ties into whatever the week’s recipe is going to be. This week, however, I wanted to talk ingredients, because if you’re like me, this recipe is going to be a bit of a scavenger hunt through your local grocery store. 

My sister-in-law makes amazing Puerto Rican dishes for us when she comes to visit, and after eyeballing this recipe for Puerto Rican rice and beans, I decided I had to take the plunge.

The first ingredient that might stump some but is actually a staple in my pantry is Sazon Culantro y Achiote packets. Sazon is the brand, and the “Culantro y Achiote” means coriander and annatto in Spanish. I use a packet in with my taco seasoning regularly, so if you buy some for this recipe, I highly recommend using the remaining packets for that.

The next is adobo seasoning, which is just a seasoning mix that generally has a mix of spices from black pepper and paprika to oregano and onion powder. If you can’t find it, try looking for a homemade recipe online. It would be pretty simple to replicate.

One that did leave me scratching my head is pigeon peas. I was only able to find them at a larger grocery store in the “Hispanic Foods” section. They are a legume and are definitely more bean-like than green-pea-like. If you can’t find them, substitute a can of black-eyed peas instead.

The final ingredient that might be different for some is basmati white rice. It’s more expensive than traditional white rice, but it cooks differently, so substituting one for the other would likely mess up cooking times and liquid ratios. I have another recipe I’ll share with you soon that uses basmati rice, so if you’re worried about having a bag of it sitting in your pantry gathering dust, stay tuned.

So, now that we’ve covered the bases, it’s time to jump into this delicious dish that, honestly, I wish I would have doubled. It was great.

I found this recipe on the blog “Ambitious Kitchen.” You can find the original post at https://www.ambitiouskitchen.com/video-moms-authentic-puerto-rican-rice-and-beans/. I changed the ingredients just a bit but also tried to clarify the directions in my version below.

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Puerto Rican Rice and Beans

Puerto Rican rice and beans are full of rich flavors, and while they may use some ingredients not standard in a stereotypical Kansas kitchen, they are definitely worth a try.
Course Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Puerto Rican
Keyword adobo, basmati rice, cilantro, garlic, green bell pepper, onions, pigeon peas, pinto beans, tomato sauce

Ingredients

Beans Ingredients

  • 2 cups dry pinto beans
  • 8 cups vegetarian broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 of a large yellow onion diced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro minced
  • 6 cloves garlic minced
  • 15 ounces tomato sauce divided
  • 2 packets Sazon Culantro y Achiote
  • salt to taste

Rice Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 of a large yellow onion diced
  • 1 green bell pepper diced
  • 6 cloves garlic minced
  • Reserved tomato sauce about 1/2 cup
  • 2 packets Sazon Culantro y Achiote
  • 1/4 teaspoon adobo seasoning
  • 15 ounces pigeon peas undrained
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups basmati white rice
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  • The night before you make this (or about eight hours before), combine the dried beans, vegetable broth and bay leaves in a Dutch oven with a lid. Bring the mixture to a boil, remove the pot from the heat, place the lid on top, and let the beans soak at least eight hours.
  • When you’re ready to start cooking, bring the beans back to a boil and then reduce to a low boil, leaving the lid on the pot. You’ll let them simmer for one to two hours or until they are tender. When they are tender, remove the bay leaves but do not drain the liquid.
  • While the beans are cooking, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add in the onion and green pepper, sauteing until both are soft. Add in the garlic and cilantro and saute for a few minutes until the garlic just starts to brown. Add one cup of the tomato sauce and the Sazon packets, stirring to combine. Reduce the heat to low and let the mixture cook for a couple minutes. If the beans are not tender yet, remove the mixture from heat. If they are, go ahead and add it to the beans.
  • Once the tomato mixture is added to the beans, cook over medium-low heat for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • For the rice, while the beans simmer, in a medium-sized pot with a lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add in the onion and green pepper, sauteing until both are soft. Add in the garlic and cilantro and saute for a few minutes until the garlic just starts to brown. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the rest of the tomato sauce, Sazon packets and adobo seasoning and let cook for about two minutes. Stir in the undrained pigeon peas and three cups of water, and bring the mixture to a boil. Stir in the rice, place the lid on the pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked through.
  • Once the beans and rice are finished cooking, add salt if desired, and then serve the beans and rice together in a bowl. Garnish with fresh cilantro, if you want to.

This was amazing, and it reheated famously as leftovers. The flavor profile was great. We ended up pairing it with some smoked pork loin that Joey whipped up, and it was a fabulous meal.

Plus, I learned about some new ingredients and got a chance to explore my grocery store a little bit more. It’s always easier to be adventurous when adventure tastes this good.

This piece first appeared in print on Jan. 21, 2021.

Spice Up Your Life is a weekly newspaper column written by Lindsey Young in south central Kansas. If you are interested in sponsoring this column, please contact us through the “Contact Lindsey” link at the top of the page.

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