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Making A Holiday Potluck Work In The Year Of Coronavirus

A look at Natu Tweh in the midst of cooking some Cuban congri.
A look at Natu Tweh in the midst of cooking some Cuban congri.

The workplace potluck party is yet another casualty of the global pandemic.

If you’re in South Florida, that’s often the time where your co-worker brings out the homemade flan that makes the saliva dribble down your chin, when the coquito bottle comes out and disappears in an instant and you finish the workday in a cheery stupor, and when your West Indian colleague breaks out their special version of black cake, featuring fruit that has been soaking in rum since the year before.

But alas, the year of the coronavirus has endeavored to block these simple pleasures of the holidays.

Not if we can help it.

In lieu of a traditional holiday party, WLRN reporter Danny Rivero and intern Natu Tweh opted to swap recipes and cook each other’s dishes as a way to socially distance the pleasures of the potluck.

Rivero shared his abuela’s recipe for Cuban congrí — a one pot dish where the black beans and rice are cooked in the same pot along with tiny chunks of meat. For his part, Tweh shared his Liberian-American family’s take on the West African staple jollof rice — a one-pot rice dish that gets its distinct red coloring from a tomato sauce, and which serves as a conduit for all manner of vegetables and meats.

On recent nights, they cooked each other’s dishes and for a fleeting instant, "All Was Well in the Wretched World."

Long live the communal spirit of the holidays! Even if we’re deprived of each other’s physical company, we can make up for it by eating each other’s foods.

We’re including the recipes for the dishes below.

Tweh-Style Jollof Rice

Note: You can make this recipe with as few as none, one, or all of the meats. Liberians love to add it all.

Ingredients:

A large pot

2 large onions

3 cloves of garlic

A can of tomato paste

2 fresh tomatoes, increase depending on how many people you are serving.

A bag of mixed vegetables

Mushrooms (optional)

2 cups of rice for a small batch, increase depending on how many people you are serving.

Soy sauce (optional)

Rice vinegar (optional)

Black pepper

Seasoned salt

Garlic powder

Onion powder

Maggi cubes (or other bouillon cubes)

Oil

Chicken (breast, thighs, drumsticks, any cuts. Natu recommends easy to cook boneless cuts)

Pork (cuts for stews or stir-frying such as shoulder, butt, tenderloin and loin)

Hamhock

Smoked turkey (Natu prefers smoked turkey neckbone)

Shrimp

Steps:

1. Cook your rice first and then set it aside.

2. As the rice cooks cut up your meats and dice your vegetables.

3. The amount of oil in your pot will vary depending on the amount of meat you’re cooking with. If you’re cooking every type listed in this recipe, then you need enough to coat the bottom so the meat won’t burn.

4. Season your meats with black pepper, salt, onion powder, garlic powder, and a Maggi cube, and let them fry until they’re browned. Once browned and cooked through, take them out and set them aside. If there is too much oil in the point, remove some of it.

5. As the meats fry, blend the tomato paste and tomatoes with about half a cup of water.

6. Take your diced vegetables and add them to the pot so they can cook the fond and soak up all that flavor.

7. After the vegetables have cooked for 5-10 minutes, add the tomato mixture on top. Season this mixture with the previous seasonings, and a quarter or a half of a Maggi cube. Add soy sauce and rice vinegar if you have them, to taste.

8. Let the mixture cook and mix with the vegetables for about 15-20 minutes. It’ll start to have a gravy-like or stew-like consistency. Make sure to stir and scrape up all the drippings.

9. Once you let it cook, add the rice in the pot and mix it all together. Leave it to sit for 5-8 minutes to warm up. Stir every now and then. Add the cooked meats.

10. Stir it for a few more minutes or longer to let everything cook through. Make sure to taste for seasoning and it’s done!

Abuela Nena’s Cuban Congrí

Note: You start prepping this the day before you actually want to cook. You can simply remove the pork or substitute it for beef, goat or lamb if you have dietary restrictions. If using no meat, you will need more oil.

For 6 people

Ingredients:

1 cup dried black beans

2 cups white rice

8 cups water

1 sweet green pepper, chopped

1 sweet red pepper, chopped

1 onion, chopped

2 or 3 laurel (bay) leaves

6 cloves of garlic

Olive oil

½ tablespoon cumin

A few chunks of bacon or chorizo

Steps:

1. Clean the beans if there’s any foreign stuff in there. Dump the beans into a large pot with the water. Leave them to soak overnight, or at least for 6 hours before cooking.

2. When you want to start cooking, bring the beans in the water to a light boil for about 45 minutes. A foam will start forming on top. Scoop out the foam as it forms, you don’t need it.

3. While the beans cook, make the sofrito. Put the bacon or chorizo into a skillet and warm it up to medium. If it’s fatty, let the fat start to drip out. If not, add a tiny bit of olive oil. Remove the bacon or chorizo and leave the fat.

4. Into this skillet with the fat, add the chopped onions and peppers. Add more olive oil if necessary. Stir around until the onions and peppers really start to get cooked and translucent. Add some salt and pepper to the sofrito to make it well spiced.

5. Add the cumin and the laurel leaves and the garlic. Leave it to cook for a few minutes.

6. By now the beans should be boiled. Separate the beans from the water, but in a way where you can save the water. Use a strainer of some kind. Save the blackened water!

7. Put the beans, the sofrito and 4 cups of the black water into the large pot. Stir in the dry wine or the vinegar. Bring to a slow simmer.

8. Stir the two cups of rice into the water. Take a taste of the water and see if you need to adjust the salt or spices. Bring this pot to a fast simmer, and then once it’s really going, lower the heat to as low as you can take it. “Bien bajito,” as abuela says. If you leave it too hot the bottom of the pot will burn.

9. Leave it to cook for about a half hour to 45 minutes. The rice should be a little bit dryish, and tender.

10. To serve, put the bacon or chorizo back on top of the pot. You can add some green herbs to the top as a garnish if you want.
Copyright 2020 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit .

Jolloff rice is a staple of West African cuisine.
DromoTetteh / Wikimedia Commons
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Jolloff rice is a staple of West African cuisine.
Abuela Nena's Cuban congrí, as cooked by Natu Tweh. He added some chorizo on top, his own personal touch to round out the dish.
Natu Tweh /
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Abuela Nena's Cuban congrí, as cooked by Natu Tweh. He added some chorizo on top, his own personal touch to round out the dish.

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