By Dara O’Brien
Creative Director, Lake Isle Press
Okay, everyone, desert island foods — top ten things you’d want to eat if you were marooned. Go.
My number one choice would be rice. I have a hard time deciding on what number two would be; maybe perfectly ripe cantaloupe, or red beans, potatoes, chocolate, corn chips (or any kind of chips), eggs, beef tenderloin, or perhaps ice cream or pudding. My choices have nothing to do with the practicality and nutritional benefits of these foods. I’m playing this by choosing stuff I love to eat — even if I don’t eat it often.
But rice leads the list of foods I eat regularly. Between brown rice, jasmine, and the occasional packaged rice mix (Near East Rice Pilaf. Yum.), I eat rice at least once a week, and often twice or more. I never thought much about that, so I just googled “is it bad to eat rice every week.” Brown rice is better, I read, which is fine because it is the kind of rice I eat most often. Except one site cautions that brown rice has high levels of arsenic.
Then I read that rice every day is a good diet tool. Even though it’s a carb. And then I stopped reading. Rice is a staple part of my diet and I’m not going to stop eating it. But I will keep adding alternative grains, like fonio (Yay for “The Fonio Cookbook”!) and couscous, for even more variety and healthful alternatives.
But back to rice. For me it’s the ultimate comfort food. I was looking through Jose Garces’s encyclopedic cookbook “The Latin Road Home,” published by Lake Isle Press, and his recipe for Cuban Black Beans and Rice jumped out at me. I’ve been meaning to get a good recipe for this dish. Rice and beans. Tomato and peppers. What’s not to love?
I don’t believe I’ve ever cooked rice as a raw ingredient within a dish; I’ve always cooked it separately and combined with other ingredients after cooking. I followed the recipe and it worked perfectly.
As an added benefit, this recipe gave me a reason to christen my new spice grinder, since it requires fresh-ground roast cumin seeds. I’ve only used packaged ground cumin, which I’ve always flavorful, but the cumin taste in this recipe was more complex and came through in a richer, if not necessarily stronger way. Nice.
This was also my first time cooking with serrano chiles. I thought about leaving some of the seeds and ribs, but removed them as the recipe suggests. I might toy with leaving a few seeds next time, although the balance is pretty great as it is.
This recipe is scrumptious and truly goes with the grain. I loved making it, savored the lingering aroma that lasted all day, even enjoyed the fact that though it’s a simple dish, it took a little time to prepare (maybe I just don’t chop veggies fast enough?). Once you finish the prep it cooks quickly and easily, and it’s worth the little bit of effort to get it ready. I added a squirt of lime before serving, which amped up the flavor even more.
Rice and beans are a great combination, as this recipe so tastily demonstrates. But the thing about rice is that it meshes beautifully with such a variety of foods and cuisines. It’s so very easy and so very accommodating. It’s the little black dress of food — it goes with anything.
Cuban Black Beans and Rice
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 Tbsp minced garlic (4 to 6 cloves)
2 serrano chiles, seeds and ribs removed, finely diced
10 plum tomatoes, diced
4 tsp whole cumin seeds, toasted and ground
6 sprigs thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
2 cups long-grain white rice
2 (15-oz) cans black beans (preferably organic), drained and rinsed
1 qt chicken stock
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 Tbsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, bell peppers, garlic, and chiles and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes, cumin, thyme, and bay leaves and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes.
Add the rice, beans, stock, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook, covered, until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
Allow the beans and rice to rest uncovered for 2 to 3 minutes before serving.
From “The Latin Road Home by Jose Garces,” Lake Isle Press, 2012
Originally published at https://www.lakeislepress.com on August 20, 2020.