11 April 2009

Cheap & Nutritious: CUBAN RICE & BEANS

Give the media a bone, and they'll shake it, bury it, dig it back up, chew on it, drop it on your lap, and so on. So it is with the current economic slow-down. In case you haven't heard, the world is ending...on the markets.

With that in mind, I present a dish that is both cheap and easy to make, and will provide you with enough leftovers to make another full meal. In fact, if you're preparing this for one or two people, you will need to halve the recipe to avoid being smothered in leftovers for a full week.

Saying that a Cuban dish is cheap to make is a redundancy, of course. The Cuban people have been making do with very little for decades, and more recently have had to make do with even less. Here's hoping that comes to an end soon.

In the mean time, if your only impression of Cuban food and drink is what you had at your resort, well, there's much more to try and enjoy. Making simple dishes doesn't mean making boring or bland dishes – it means making the most of what you have.

2 cups long grain white rice
1 can black beans (or 1.5 cups cooked fresh black beans if you're ambitious!)
2 cups chicken stock + 1.5 cups water
1 red bell pepper
1 cubanelle pepper (a mild bright green cuban pepper) or 1 smallish green bell pepper
1 tomato
1 smallish yellow or white onion
1 lime
1.5 Tbsp white vinegar
Fresh cilantro, well-rinsed and patted dry
Olive oil
2 green onions (optional)

Rinse and drain 1 can Black Beans (set aside).
Rinse and drain 2 cups of white rice (set aside).

Peel and dice your onion into small pieces.
Wash and chop into small pieces both of your peppers.

In your largest and heaviest saucepan, over medium high heat, drizzle some olive oil. When that's good and hot, grind in some fresh black pepper, and if you have it around the house, some cumin - just a pinch, or about 1/2 teaspoon. If you're a spicy fan, now is also the time to add in some red pepper flakes - to taste, but usually a good pinch will do. Let them come to life in the hot oil for about five seconds.

Now toss in and stir the onions. Give them about a minute, then toss in the chopped peppers, and a generous dash of salt. Flip that mixture to ensure it's evenly coated in the oil, and allow to soften for about 3 or 4 minutes. Remove from the saucepan, setting aside in a bowl.

Next, add your chicken stock, water, and rice to the saucepan. Cover, and bring to a boil. Once you're there, turn back down to a simmer and let cook for about ten minutes - about half the liquid should be absorbed by then.

Dump in your rinsed and drained black beans, and your cooked onions and peppers. Very gently stir those in, then cover the rice back up and leave it to simmer another 10 minutes.

While that's cooking, you can chop up your cilantro (try for about 1/3 cup, fresh) and dice the tomato. If you're adding the green onion, chop very finely, including a good portion of the greens. Give the lime a good roll around on the counter with your hand to loosen it up, and slice in half.

Once that ten minutes is up, add in all the cilantro, tomato and green onions, and juice over the mixture the juice of your lime. Add the vinegar, and give everything a very gentle stir. Cover, turn off the heat (but leave the pan where it is), and leave to finish cooking for five minutes more. Taste, and add salt if necessary.

Feeling fancy? Garnish with a bit more chopped fresh cilantro, and/or some fresh parsley. The bright green herb really brings the dish to life.

That's it. What you've got in that saucepan is about 6 or 7 pounds of nutrition and flavour. I am a fan of serving this with grilled pork, but you could make a vegetarian meal of it and save yourself some bills.

Your leftovers will keep for a good five nights, but after that, your beans are a little less friendly, if you know what I mean.

Just a note...if you're less a fan of beans than rice, just set aside 1/3 of the can of beans, and use the rest in this dish. You'll get more rice per forkful, but pretty much all the same flavour and nutrition.

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