Tuesday, September 11, 2007

RECIPE! Rice 'n' Beans

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE with rice and beans, and perhaps my most memorable, was on Spring Break in Mallorca, of all places. My roommate, Derek, from Texas, the both of us studying in Madrid at the time, and our two traveling compatriots were all staying on the Spanish island for a week and continually played chess with our budget lines attempting to keep ourselves properly full of wine and/or food, whichever was more important that day. This usually skewed in favor of wine, as beans, rice and produce could be even more cheaply procured than our favorite 2-euro boxes of vino.

We returned one evening from driving around the Mediterranean coast and Derek dropped into a large pot with some olive oil the black beans he had soaked overnight, some garlic, onions, green peppers, chilies and a few tomatoes, adding a bit of salt and pepper (since traveling with cumin and paprika hadn't really occurred to us). This was simmered for quite some time and piled atop plenty of soft rice and our feast was complete. Beans 'n' rice was instantly a favorite meal of mine and I found it often during the rest of my Spanish stay, frequently listed on menus there as cristianos y moros--Christians and Moors. The Spanish are never much concerned with political correctness.

It's been some time since I last made the dish, and I'll admit the leftovers from Saturday's late-night Mamá Mexico binge were its inspiration. The ingredients and technique, however, are mostly the same as Derek's original recipe, with a few additions:

8 oz. black beans
2-3 small tomatoes
2 green chilies
2 cloves garlic
2 small shallots
3 scallions
salt, pepper

1 tbsp ground cumin
1/2 tbsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tbsp paprika
1 c. basmati rice
olive oil
aged cheddar cheese

Soak beans overnight. In a large pot, add enough olive oil to coat well the shallots and garlic. Fry over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Add cumin, cayenne pepper and paprika, continue to cook for 60 seconds. Add beans and just enough water to cover. Chop tomatoes and scallions, reserving a handful of the scallions; add to simmering beans. Make sure there is just enough water to keep the beans simmering and let sit for at least 20 minutes. Taste, season, and add water as necessary.

Simmer down, now.

To cook the rice: Rinse rice well. If you have time, allow rice to soak for up to 3o minutes; drain. Add 1 cup of rice and 1 1/2 cups of water to saucepan with just a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cover tightly. Let sit--read: do NOT lift lid--for twelve minutes. Immediately remove from heat. Let sit for at least five minutes before removing lid.

Fluff rice with fork. Grate cheese. Grab a handful of scallions. Take a large scoop of rice, heap on black beans, and throw scallions and grated cheese over top. Pick up fork. Give thanks to God, Allah, or Whomever, but it's nice to see the two faiths coming together in rich, spicy harmony over a flour tortilla.

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