Letting Life Lead
I’ve got something special to share today. Jag. That’s all I ever heard it called when I was growing up, but apparently it is really called “Jagacida” which is simply beans and rice and it is of Portuguese origin. First a little background history!
If you don’t know, the Cape Verde Islands is an archipelago located off the coast of West Africa. The historical influence there is heavily Portuguese (including Portuguese Jews who fled from in Inquisition), African, and European (much Spanish and Italian, but in later years also Dutch, French, British, Arab, Jew from Lebanon and Morocco, India, Indonesia, China, South America, Brazil, and America). It would not be unheard of to have American Indian somewhere in the Cape Verdean ancestry. I have always identified very strongly with being multi-ethnic American even as a child. For me it was, “You mean I am the WHOLE WORLD?!” Genetically, I’d say that’s very true! It’s not uncommon for people of Portuguese, Spanish, Brazilian, Indian, Latino, or American Indian descent to see the resemblance and ask me if I am also. As far as I know, only other Cape Verdeans ever recognize each other for being Cape Verdean despite vast differences in everyone’s appearance. I don’t speak the Creole language, so don’t ask me. I only know a couple of words and one swear!The food is also a melting pot with heavy influences from Africa and Portugal.
I will be posting my grandmother’s version of the national dish at some point, but it has a lot of ingredients and makes enough for an army. For now, let’s start off with jag.
I warn you, for the most part you’ll have to put down your measuring cups and spoons and employ the use of your gut instincts. This is more of a flavor profile than a recipe. This is one of those dishes where it is not made the same by each person, and not even the same by the same person. Got it? Great!
Everyone makes their jag their own way, and even I have made further changes to what I grew up with to suit my own tastes and cooking techniques. For one, I bake my rice thanks to the brilliance of Alton Brown so I never again will have a scorched bottom, mushy grains, or hard nibs to chew. I really suck at making rice on the stove and I’m too cheap to buy a rice cooker. I’m the only one in my family who prepares jag in the oven. I use a 9×9 pan with 1 1/2 cups of rice, and 2 1/2 cups of water baked at 375F for an hour.
My grandmother and my whole family only uses Uncle Ben’s Rice (it is a parboiled white rice which is closer to brown rice and better nutritionally than regularly processed white). I prefer to use straight-up, medium or long grained brown rice. I have no idea what they use on the Islands, but if you want to make my grandmother’s rice, use Uncle Ben’s.
The beans. I didn’t have any beans on hand which is why the can shown is generic. It doesn’t matter what beans you like to use my family tends to use one of the following types: red kidney beans, butter beans, lima beans, or peas (not actually a bean but you get the picture). I have used with happy results pink beans, cranberry beans, white kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, and black beans. I know some people prefer to use fava beans. Each bean gives the overall rice dish a different flavor and character. My favorite is red kidney. How much goes in, you ask? That depends. If you like a lot of beans use a lot. If you prefer a higher rice to bean ratio, use less. You can’t do it wrong.
That only goes for the beans, not the rice, okay? You cannot use regular white rice; that would be wrong. It is totally not the same. Not even close.
The essential base of a good jag in my family is the simple spices. The onion must be chopped fine and sauteed with salt, pepper, paprika, and butter in order to get the flavor I did when I was growing up. But, again, you don’t have to. Once you write down the gist, the recipe is yours to experiment with! My mom puts in a bay leaf; my grandmother does not.
Hold on! Didn’t you say to saute the onion and paprika together. Yeah, I did. If you want to get that unique flavor you saute the onions just how I said, until they get fragrant and delicious before you add the rice, beans, water and let it cook until done. I normally would use one small onion for cup and a half of uncooked rice I was using because I like onion. However, yesterday I didn’t have time to do that (kids, cats, and snow to shovel) so I improvised with dried onion which did not give me that “oomph” of flavor, but it was okay. I made due with the time I had. That’s how it goes sometimes! I even threw in some garlic to compensate for the lack of saute goodness, which my grandma never uses.
Wait! You didn’t tell us how long to cook it! Well, my way with my amount according to Alton Brown’s method take about an hour. If you are doing it on a stove top or rice cooker, you are own your own. Cook it until it is done and smells good! If you like mushy rice, cook it longer with more liquid. Make the firmness how you like it.
My Grandmother Prepares it thus:
Saute onion, paprika, salt, pepper, butter.
Add Uncle Ben’s rice, beans, and water.
Cook on stove top.She tends to make rice that’s fluffy and plump.
My Mother Prepares it thus:
Saute onion, paprika (a lot), salt, pepper, butter, bay leaf.
Add Uncle Ben’s rice, beans (or canned peas), and water.
Cook on stove top.
She tends to make rice that is firmer and drier.
I Prepare it thus:
Saute lots of onion, lots of paprika, sea salt, fresh ground pepper, bay leaf.Add brown rice, beans, and water (if using, I add in thawed frozen peas after rice is done cooking)
Cook in oven.
The rice tends to come out firm and fluffy.
You can serve this with just about anything, but it is particularly good with linguica (the brand of my youth is Amaral’s which is hard to get it isn’t local to you) or vinegar and garlic pork chops. A favorite condiment, especially among the children, to serve it with is ketchup (you mix it in the rice, and I did this when younger). I am very, very fond of it served next day warm with tuna fish prepared with mayonnaise.
The next time you make rice, try your hand at jag. Let me know how you prepared it! Comment and tell me what you think!
A little bit of life... A little bit of writing.... A lot of awkward.
creative writing by northie
Willie Gordon Suting | poet | writer | freelancer | bibliophile | crooner | fashionista | Shillong,Meghalaya,Northeast India
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