If you have ever visited the Caribbean, you know that rice and beans are the mainstays of the diet for most people who live there.
I lived in Puerto Rico for quite some time and loved to cook for friends, just as I still do. One day, a friend who came over often said, “You Americans, you eat something different every day!” Of course what she meant was that we don’t eat rice and beans most days, as the Puerto Ricans do. It is healthy but a monotonous diet to say the least. If my Puerto Rican friends want something different, they would add a piece of chicken to their plate of rice and beans.
I do like rice and beans and have been making them with some regularity recently. My favorite, so far, is black beans with garlic butter brown rice. It is healthy and delicious. The garlic-flavored rice really makes a difference, and it’s simple to make. Just toast the raw rice in garlic butter before steaming. I am also a fan of canella beans, with lots of garlic too and Italian seasonings. I saw an Italian recipe once for making canella beans in a wine bottle, left to cook in the embers of a fire. I have not gotten the courage to try that recipe yet, but maybe one day I will.
Some people shy away from beans because the dried beans have to be soaked in water overnight and cooked for quite a long time. You might be surprised to know that celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain thought that canned beans were just fine, but he suggested that they be rinsed off first.
No matter if you cook them from scratch or used the canned variety, the trick to success is the stock that you cook them in. A good ham stock is my favorite and it’s simple to make. Sauté smoked ham until it starts to take on color, add onions, bell pepper, jalapeno, and garlic, cook until tender, then add the beans. Add browned sausage if you want it to be seriously hearty. Remember to season with Tony’s and red pepper flakes as you go. Never season all at once, season as you go. The seasonings do not have time to be incorporated into the dish and just sit on top, in an unpleasant way.
The mortal sin of cooking any vegetable is to overcook them. Vegetables should be toothsome, what the Italians call al dente when cooking pasta. Mushy vegetables are especially common in the South. I have no idea where the idea that mushy is acceptable came from. Just say no.
If you really want to jack up rice and beans serve with a chow-chow, which is really easy to make: 1 large can whole tomatoes, 2/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup vinegar, 1 or 2 chopped jalapenos, 6 or so whole cloves, combine and simmer until thick. Place in a well-sealed jar and it will last more than a week.