Rice and Beans: Reduce, Reuse & Recycle
Fried rice made with leftovers is easy and economical
One of the most frequent—and most confounding—requests I’ve received since writing for Rural Intelligence is to serve up a plan for an entire week’s worth of dinners. I am not, however, a Monday-meatloaf, Tuesday-turkey kind of cook. Even if I wanted to limit my menus to a set weekly rotation, I lack the temperment to pull off such a system. But the question makes me think about how I handle meal planning, and I realized that I do have recipes that I tend to make in sequence, if only, say, once a month or so instead of every week. The beauty of these recipe sets is that one leads into another, using up leftovers in the process. Since no one in my family will willingly eat anything identifiable as last night’s dinner, total transformation is the key to success.
One of our favorite simple meals is black beans and rice. I use a recipe (if you can call it that) taught to me by a Guatemalan woman named Edith, who used to babysit for my best friend’s children. Edith used to make rice and beans for those kids—and mine—every Tuesday when they played together. When my kids always asked to stay for dinner instead of coming home, I realized I’d better ask for a tutorial on her method of making beans. It’s ridiculously simple—a recipe with only four ingredients: salt, water, black beans, onion. I always serve these beans with plain white rice, shredded cheese, sour cream, tomatillo salsa and, if we’re really hungry, either corn tortillas or cheese quesadillas on the side. True, it lacks vegetables, so sometimes the adults have salad alongside, or the kids eat a piece of fresh fruit for dessert. It’s nutritious, filling, cheap and easy. And everyone who’s ever eaten this simple meal has relished it.
Whenever I make rice (and, yes, I use a rice cooker, one of the great unnecessary inventions of our time that I now cannot live without) I make two or three times the amount I need, so that leftovers are guaranteed. (With the beans, I shoot for an extra couple of cups, minimum—enough to add to my vegetarian chili later in the week.) The next day, that extra rice is turned into one of the great clean-out-the-fridge dishes of all time: fried rice. I include whatever protein we have on hand, whether leftover roast chicken, some shrimp or a package of tofu; I’m partial to the More Than Tofu brand (we like the Spicy Thai flavor best) sold at the Berkshire Co-op). Vegetables can be fresh (broccoli, shredded zucchini, fresh spinach or arugula) or frozen (green beans, peas). I always use an onion, some garlic and fresh ginger, and, of course, eggs to bind. I like mine with a Thai flavor, so I use fish sauce instead of soy, and will (at least in summer) include a chopped tomato or two. Again, It’s filling, nutritious comfort food, and extremely quick to make.
Finally, I use the leftover beans for my vegetarian chili, a recipe even carnivores seem to love. I’ve been making this recipe for nearly twenty years, adapting my own version from a recipe in the Silver Palate New Basics Cookbook. It’s foolproof. I make mine in a Dutch oven on the stove top, but if you were pressed for time, you could make a passable version by simply throwing everything together in the slow cooker. The only time consuming aspect is chopping the zucchini and squash. (You want even, small cubes for the best texture. The trick is to first cut a 1/4 inch thick slice off one long side of the squash, creating a flat edge. Turn the squash to rest on that flat bottom, and then slice the rest of the squash lengthwise into more 1/4 inch thick “planks”. Cut those lengthwise again into long rods 1/4 inch wide, and then dice those pieces. Once you get the hang of this technique, it goes quickly.) I serve the chili with rice—whether freshly made or leftover—and some chopped green onions, cilantro, and maybe avocado alongside.
After three nights of re-using and recycling, congratulate yourself for your kitchen efficiency—and treat yourself to dinner at your favorite local restaurant with a clear conscience.—Paige Orloff
Edith’s Black Beans
Serves 4 with leftovers
1-1/2 pounds dried black beans
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 white or yellow onion, finely chopped
Rinse the beans with water. Place in a deep saucepan and add water to cover by at least an inch. Add salt. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to achieve a slow simmer. Skim off foam as necessary. Cook uncovered, adding more water as necessary. (We like our beans soupy–but not soup.) When the beans are just soft (after about three hours), add the chopped onion and cook for another 20-30 minutes until the onion has practically disappeared and the beans are tender to your taste.
Serve in bowls atop white rice, with shredded cheese, sour cream and salsa on the side. Chopped scallions and avocado are also good.
Clean-out-the-Fridge Fried Rice
2 T cooking oil (a purist wouldn’t use olive oil, but I do)
4 cups leftover cooked rice
1 onion, cut in half and then sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-1/2 inch long piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1 pound (or less) of chicken, tofu or shrimp (raw is fine)
2 - 3 cups vegetables (I like a mix of broccoli, raw or frozen, and peas)
2 T fish sauce (available at Guido’s)
3 eggs, beaten
Heat oil in a large skillet or wok until shimmering. Add onion, garlic and ginger and stir to combine. Sauté over medium heat until the onion begins to get translucent and tender.
Add the rice, stir to combine with the onion mixture, and begin to press the rice down on the bottom of the skillet with the back of a wooden spoon. You want to break up lumps, and bring as much of the rice in contact with the pan as possible. When the rice is heated through (it may start to stick slightly to the bottom of the pan—don’t worry, scrape it up, and then press it back down) add the vegetables. Raw ones should go in first. Stir them in to combine, and cover the pan. Keep checking so that they hit just the level of tenderness you desire.
Stir in your protein, the fish sauce, and any frozen vegetables, and cover again. (If you’re using shrimp, you’ll know they’re done when they turn pink. Anything else just needs to heat through. )
Stir in the eggs, and cook uncovered until everything is steaming hot, and the egg is just cooked.
Serve immediately, with more fish sauce or soy sauce on the side.
Vegetable Chili (that even a meat-lover can love)
1/8 c. olive oil
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 summer squash, cut into 1/4 inch dice
1 large onion, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 large bell peppers, preferably red and/or yellow, cut into 1/4” dice
2 T chili powder
1 T ground cumin
2 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes in juice (do not drain)
1 t dried basil
1 t dried oregano
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper (or more to taste)
1/2 c. chopped Italian parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill (or 2 t dried, if you don’t have fresh)
2 cups (or 1 can) black beans
1 can pinto beans
1 package frozen corn (about 1-1/2 cups)
Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven and add onions. Saute until just clear. Add zucchini, squash and peppers and stir to blend. Add chili powder and cumin, and cook until vegetables are just starting to become tender. Add tomatoes and remaining seasonings (except parsley and dill.) Cook over low heat for around 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the beans, corn, parsley and dill, and cook another fifteen minutes. Serve alone, garnished with grated cheddar or jack cheese, with sour cream, etc. Great with cornbread, fresh corn tortillas, or atop rice or couscous.