Empty Cupboard? Rice and Beans Rescue

Rice and beans, or beans and rice, are universally popular for several reasons. They provide whole grains (brown rice) and protein (beans). It doesn’t take much to make them delicious, as just a little salt, butter and hot sauce can make the rice and beans come alive with flavor.

Chopped cilantro adds a zesty flavor
Chopped cilantro adds a zesty flavor
Rice and beans are comfort food heaven
Rice and beans are comfort food heaven

An added bonus is they are filling. Tonight is what my Mom calls a “make-do” night. Make do with what you have on hand. I had no intention of going to the supermarket because I was busy and did not feel like planning out the rest of the week’s meals for grocery shopping. Instead, I opened the cupboard and saw several cans of black beans. I knew I also had a unopened bag of brown rice.

Turning my attention to the fridge crisper, I found the rest of the ingredients to place on the counter to get the meal going:

  • brown rice
  • can of Rotel
  • can of black beans
  • 2 carrots
  • 1/3 sweet onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 red pepper
  • handful of cilantro

    Pantry staples are basis of an easy dinner
    Pantry staples are basis of an easy dinner

In one pot, I cooked the rice according to the bag’s directions. Once covered, I moved onto pot in which the beans would cook. I started by sautéing chopped carrots first in olive oil because carrot takes the longest to cook. Next, I added chopped sweet onion. I covered that pot to let the onion and carrots soften together and in the meantime chopped the peppers and cilantro. Then, all the veggies we folded into the pot with the carrots and onion, and simmer on medium-low for about 10 minutes.

Chopped veggies before being stirred together in olive oil
Chopped veggies before being stirred together in olive oil

Finally, I stirred in the cilantro followed by the entire can of beans and the whole can of Rotel. I brought that pot to nearly a boil before dialing it back to low. I covered it and let that cook for another 10 minutes. To serve, I scooped a serving of rice into a bowl and spooned the beans mixture over it. The finishing touch was a dollop of sour cream. And, Tabasco. I cannot eat rice and beans without Tabasco. If you like, you can also top rice and beans with a fried egg. Honestly, this was so delicious that I had seconds. And, there are leftovers, which is always a good thing. While I love planning menus and trying new recipes, I take equal satisfaction in pulling together a healthy and satisfying meal on a “make-do” basis.

Come to think of it, the pantry is stocked for this very purpose. I always have a variety of canned beans (black, garbanzo, butter, kidney, cannellini and pinto) as well as dried beans and lentils. Canned tomatoes, plain and Rotel, are also staples. You also want to have onion and/or garlic on hand to make dinner savory. Other pantry staples include: tuna, chicken or vegetable broth, rice and pasta, crackers and soups. There are certain food pairs that just go together: peanut butter and jelly, tuna and crackers, grilled cheese and tomato soup, and, of course, rice and beans. Sometimes the best things in life are comfort food.

Cheers,

The Sage Leopard

 

Creative Stir-Fry for a Weeknight

It’s time to stop overthinking dinner. Stop thinking you need to follow a recipe to the letter of the law. First things first. Relax, it’s just dinner. Start with what is on hand. I had snap peas and French beans in the fridge as well as leftover steamed carrots and broccoli.

Getting started with French beans in the pan with garlic, ginger and green onions
Getting started with French beans in the pan with garlic, ginger and green onions

This veggie array was perfect for a stir fry, but peering into the pantry, I realized we don’t have any soy sauce. But, I did have Worcestershire sauce, sesame oil and Marie Sharp’s “exotic sauce,” a pepper sauce from Belize. The exotic sauce is made from green mangoes, tamarind, raisins, ginger, sugar, vinegar, onions, garlic, habanero pepper and some undisclosed spices. I figured this would take a different path than soy sauce, but paired with Worcestershire could work as a substitute. Departing from soy sauce gave me the freedom to work in other flavors, which I did with liberal sprinkling of garam masala, Madras curry and coriander. How did I pull this all together? The first thing was to finely chop a few cloves of garlic, a few sprigs of green onion, and a pinky’s length of fresh ginger root, and sauté those in a large pan with sesame oil on medium heat. Then, I piled in the veggies. I let them fry up a bit, but at this point, I wanted to add a broth and placed bouillon in a Pyrex cup with water. Next, I poured the instant broth into the pot with the veggies. Then, I got started with the powdered spices (coriander, garam masala, curry) and the Worcestershire and exotic sauces. Now, I had a pot of beautifully flavored vegetables steaming up with a hot broth.

Veggies cooking in broth with spices
Veggies and meat cooking in broth with spices

This was the perfect time to stir in meat. I had tenderized venison on hand, which I had sliced into small pieces. The meat cooked very quickly and maintained moisture with a lid on the pan. Meanwhile, I had cooked quick brown rice. The upshot is dinner came together with relative ease and in short order. The cooking was enjoyable as I smelled the aromas of the different spices, which was therapeutic. The bright colors of the vegetables were aesthetically pleasing. The approach was simple: what do I have? My quick survey ensured I had veggies, spices, meat and rice. To lay the foundation of the meal, I sautéed garlic and onion in oil (in this case, with minced ginger). Then, I added veggies and spice. Next, broth, and finally meat. That’s only a few steps to a beautiful and balanced meal. I do have a confession: I added salt when the meat was cooking.

Quick dinner with veggies, meat and rice
Quick dinner with veggies, meat and rice

In review, there are really just a few steps to making a great dinner on a weeknight:

  1. take an inventory of what you have and make a plan
  2. start anything good by sautéing garlic in oil in a pan
  3. add spices and veggies
  4. opt whether to add meat and/or rice or pasta, etc.
  5. eat, and proceed to enjoy the rest of the evening

Consider that all of this came together in less than the time it would have taken a pizza delivery to bring us something relatively unhealthy and over-priced. (Not that there’s anything wrong with the occasional pizza.) There also is the satisfaction of knowing you can pull together a home-cooked meal with a little creativity in no time. The best part of all was this meal was absolutely delicious and provided wonderful leftovers for lunch. Before you despair that you have nothing for dinner, take a longer look in the fridge and pantry and get creative!

The Sage Leopard