While rice and beans will most likely never have a moment of glory in the world of high-falutin’ foods, it is a long-time favorite of mine. My first experience of rice and beans was in a food court of a ridiculously huge mall in Orlando, Florida; my family was on vacation there but I, having a lifelong disdain of malls, spent the afternoon with a book (The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy) in front of this little Cuban food stand. Coming from small towns in Eastern Washington, I didn’t know squat about Cuban food so I ordered black beans and rice, which I reasoned to be a safe bet, and I sat there eating simple food, reading a complicated story, and trying to block out the overwhelming anxiety of being surrounded by conspicuous consumption.
Beans and rice are remarkably calming. I think it’s the cumin, a spice which smells like warmth and earth and understated goodness. I may be only slightly exaggerating when I say that food saved my sanity that day.
Although there is an Arab beans and rice dish (check out Mimi Cooks for a recipe), I went with what I had in the cupboards and refrigerator, and ended up with a more Creole-inspired dish. At least, I call it “Creole.” Truth be told, I have no more knowledge of Creole food than I did of Cuban food those many years ago. No matter…the important thing was that it cooked in one pot, was ready to eat in only 30 minutes, and lasted two days. You could easily modify it to work with whatever beans and vegetables you have on hand.
I feel funny writing a recipe, given that there’s hardly a formula to this meal, but here’s approximately what I did:
• One large onion, roughly chopped
• Vegetable oil
• 2 large cloves of garlic, smashed and chopped
• 3 carrots, diced
• 1 green pepper, chopped
• 3-4 tomatoes, chopped (if you’re picky about tomato skins floating loose in your food, make sure to peel them first)
• 1 bay leaf
• 1 Tbsp. cumin
• Salt and pepper to taste
• 1 vegetable bouillon cube
• 1 Tbsp. tomato paste
• 6 cups of water
• 1 can red beans, drained and rinsed
• 1 cup rice
Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot, and throw the onion in, stirring occasionally, until it is slightly translucent. Add garlic, stir for a minute or two, and then add the carrots, cooking for about five minutes. Add the green pepper, tomatoes, spices, tomato paste, and water, bring to a boil, cover and cook for another five minutes or so, until the carrots are mostly tender. Add the beans and the rice, stir well, and bring back to the boil. Simmer, covered (but stirring occasionally) until the rice is tender and most of the liquid is absorbed.