These days, you don’t have to be a student to be on a budget. But alas, I am a student (for only another 11 days!) and NPR’s food blog caught my attention: “Man Cannot Live on Rice and Beans Alone (But Many Do).”
Though there was plenty of rice and many a bean in my childhood diet, I didn’t often eat them as the traditional “rice and beans.” More often, rice was served as a side dish to a plate of baked chicken, and steamed vegetables (usually carrots, string beans, broccoli or all three). Beans in our pantry were usually black-eyed peas, especially around the new year holiday, kidney beans for chili, or baked beans for pork ‘n beans.
I met my first black bean dish in the best way possible, at a Dominican restaurant on Amsterdam Avenue in New York City. I was a college student and in the usual college student condition: in between Western Union transfers from my father, starving, and with little time to eat. A friend, whose family was Haitian and Puerto Rican, recommended this very…affordable Dominican restaurant that served what is a staple around Latino neighborhoods: lick-your-fingers roasted chicken, garlicky-lemony black beans, fluffy white rice, sweet plantains, and some sort of gooey dessert for less than $10. The dish was absolutely divine.
My first attempt to recreate the dish in my own kitchen, because at times even $10 was too much to ask, was a disaster. My dish lacked the sabor and succulence of the restaurant’s. Fortunately, another friend, a Los Angeles raised Chicano, skilled me on flavor and the dish became more than edible but delicious. In the years since college, fortune has allowed me to eat rice and black beans more out of enjoyment than necessity. As well, Chipotle, California Tortilla and other restaurants have made rice and beans popular to the American palate. But when circumstances require a “two-buck Chuck” kind of dinner—such as my final days in graduate school—I’m quite happy to have this dish in my mental cookbook.
Here’s how I prepare my rice + beans
Prepare rice as usual and set aside.
1 can of beans
1 can of corn
Small clove of garlic
Uncle Brutha’s No. 10
Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small pan or skillet.
When oil begins to sizzle (but not smoke!) add diced garlic
Once garlic sizzles, but before edges turn brown, add drained beans and drained corn
Stir so beans and corn are well incorporated
Begin to add flavor: 1 tsp of cumin, 1 tsp of Uncle Brutha’s No. 10, and a few pinches of salt
Stir again until beans and corn are heated through
Optional garnish: cilantro leaves, or juice of a fresh lime or lemon.
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