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What luck Charles Pierre Gaston Francois de Lévis had. He began his public life at a deficit, “an incompetent and mediocre individual,” wrote the great Pierre Larousse, as quoted in the “Oxford Companion to Food.”

But because Louis XV had eyes for de Levis’ wife, the king made him Duke of Mirepoix and kept him nearby. Mirepoix, for his part, tinkered in the royal kitchens, eventually giving his name to a preparation of seasonings —  mostly chopped onion, carrot and celery — that cooks all over the world reflexively use every day.

“Mirepoix” (pronounced meer-pwah), or its Spanish sibling “sofrito” or Italian “soffritto,” are what chefs call “aromatics,” the heady mix of vegetables and seasonings at the base of many warm temperature dishes (certainly most wet dishes such as soups or braises) all over the world.

Typically, the French or Western base is two parts onion to one part each carrot and celery, diced or chopped small or large depending on what dish it underlies: for example, small dice for soups, large chop for stews or stocks.

Spanish dishes often begin with a sofrito of onions, garlic and tomato (sometimes celery); Italians often add chopped cured pork.

Cajuns are famed for their “holy trinity” of onion, celery and green pepper; Indians, for theirs of onion, garlic and ginger.

These unassuming, but essential, vegetables are literally the foundation, the ground floor, of all the other flavors, elements and ingredients piled atop them during cooking.

This recipe takes its name from the period when (black) Moors lived alongside (white) Christians on the Iberian peninsula, roughly 700-1400 A.D. After Columbus, Spanish territories in the New World, notably Cuba, took the black beans native to the Americas and came up with this dish, very popular to this day. The sofrito at its base is much like that used in Cajun cooking.

Moros y Cristianos (Cuban Black Beans and Rice)

Serves 8-10; epicurious.com

Ingredients

  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 pound bacon (about 6 strips), chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 green pepper, seeded and finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 2 (15 1/2-ounce) cans black beans, not drained
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

Directions

Put the garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle 1 teaspoon of salt over the cloves, let it sit for a few minutes, and mince it into a paste with a knife. Set aside. Place the bacon and olive oil in a large pot and set it over medium-high heat. Sauté the bacon until it renders its fat and turns a golden brown color, about 6 minutes. Move the bacon around as it’s cooking to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Add the onion, green pepper, and garlic paste to the bacon and sauté until the vegetables are limp and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt, the bay leaf, cumin, oregano, and rice and stir for 1 minute until well mixed and all the rice is coated in oil.

Add the beans and their liquid, along with the water and vinegar. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook for 35-40 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed by the rice. Allow the covered pot to sit off the heat for 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve.

Notes:

  • If you do not want to use the liquid from the canned black beans, just add an extra 1/2 cup of water with the drained and rinsed black beans.
  •  Rice requires a specific amount of liquid to cook properly. Because onions and green peppers can contribute a considerable amount of liquid to a recipe, a volume measure for each is given. While the measurements are approximate, making sure the chopped vegetables are close to these amounts will ensure that the rice cooks properly.
  •  You can prepare the recipe in its entirety the night before with very little effect on the taste and texture of the dish. However, you will want to warm the dish before serving. This can be done in the microwave or on the stovetop. Just sprinkle about 1/4 cup of water over the rice to make sure it does not dry out when reheated.

Reach Bill St John at [email protected]

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