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October 25, 2006

Beans and Rice: How to Add Taste to the Nutrients


Behold, the black bean, proud yet humble.


It carries with it a quiet dignity, a sense of pride and purpose. The black bean delivers protein and folic acid, and does so in delicious manner.


How do we pay homage to such a noble food? We convey it to its final purpose in a bed made of a warm flour tortilla with a stuffing of brown rice. And because a lonely food is a less productive food, we send it along with its sister, corn.


We start, naturally with the beans. There are three ways to prepare beans. One is to take dried beans, soak them and cook them until soft. The second is to boil them for a few minutes, soak for an hour and then cook until soft. The third is to buy a can of them, already prepared. Here, make your decision and take whatever path best suits your level of commitment.


Brown rice is a difficult taskmaster. Unlike the parched white rice of Uncle Ben’s fame, it has its own way. It declines invitations to be cooked in a minute, and instead insists on a bath lasting 45 minutes.


While the rice cooks, you will have some time. Sit down and read a book.  Call your mother.  Do something, because these are 45 minutes you will never get back. The rice works according to its own schedule, and will not suffer cajoling or threats. When it’s finished, however, it is finished. Its patience will run out quickly. Get too distracted, and you’ll wind up with rice that is dry and crunchy rather than soft and warm.


Once the rice is cooked, set it aside. It will need a break from the heat. At this time, you will want to devote all of your attention to the manufacture of flavor.


Beans and rice, individually or combined, provide a great deal of nutrition but very little in the departments of flavor or zest. Here, we will want to bring together three standards – half an onion, a clove of garlic and a chopped jalapeño pepper. The onion and garlic are kitchen workhorses, basics to unlocking the most simple secrets of flavor. The jalapeño will remind the beans of their humble beginnings, and will spur them to greater efforts.


Sauté them all together in olive oil, until the heat binds them together. When nearly finished, add corn so that it will heat in oil flavored by the softened pepper, onion and garlic. Just a moment or two before you’re apt to shut off the heat, add some chopped parsley (here, a man might think to substitute some fresh cilantro – dare to dream! – but be forewarned, cilantro craves attention, so tread lightly).


Here, we return to our friend, the bean. It will need to be mixed with the rice. When both are cozy with one another, stir in the mixture meant to add flavor … but, be warned, the work of flavor is not yet finished. Salt and ground black pepper are here needed. If you neglect this step, you will bite into your finished meal and wonder whether something might not be missing. It will be … the salt and pepper necessary to tie everything together will be missing.


Once this is together, warm your flour tortillas over a medium heat.  Watch them carefully, because there is a thin line between a warmed, soft tortilla and a hardened, crusty one.


At some point, you might be tempted to make additions or substitutions. We have already covered the great cilantro versus parsley controversy, but it must be again repeated – be careful in cilantro territory. Tread too heavily and it will come back and haunt you.


Some might suggest adding chopped tomato. This will add moisture, and certainly will not be an unwelcome addition by the other ingredients.

Others might wonder about whether some kind of meat, or maybe even shredded cheese, is warranted. The idea of cheese defiling this pains the mind. Meat, on the other hand, is in the eye of the beholder.


A soft tortilla may be easily filled with the filling and rolled up. Take a bite. If it is delicious, you are finished. If it is not delicious, you have probably forgotten the salt and pepper.


Shame on you for ignoring directions.


© 2006 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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