Ed note: This is the second in my Writers Eat series. I'm asking writers I admire to share their favorite recipes and/or foods here on Plums in the Icebox. The food will sometimes be tied in with the writer's work, but sometimes not. If you're a writer and you're interested in participating, let me know!
This edition of Writers Eat comes to you courtesy of writer and poet Elisa Gabbert. I asked her to participate because I know she likes food and I trust her judgement, even on controversial (in my opinion) topics like the wearing of vests. Also, she eats gluten-free, like me!
Elisa's smart and funny and has a interesting blog, The French Exit. Her book of poems, also called The French Exit, is also smart and funny. The recipe you're about to read is, you guessed it...smart and funny! So get ready to learn while laughing.
Elisa actually sent me a few recipes, including one for Watermelon Gazpacho, but I'm mourning warm weather so fiercely I couldn't bring myself to make such a summery dish.This Best Beans and Rice recipe is actually three recipes masquerading as one, as you'll see; you'll learn a fast way to make rice, a beans dish and an easy salsa.
I have never actually made anything with blackeyed peas before, but I heeded the strict warning (see below) not to make this with any other type of bean, and wow. Blackeyed peas. Who knew they were so great? I will definitely be cooking with them again, maybe tossing a can into the next pot of chili I make.
The Best Beans and Rice
For the rice:
The beauty of my rice recipe is that you don’t have to measure anything. Dump some rice (I especially like basmati but any kind will work, though I wouldn’t recommend using brown rice as I’ve never tried to cook brown rice this way; also, don’t believe the hype, have you noticed how long Japanese people live?) in a big pot with a lid – a cup or so should work depending on how many people you’re feeding; also leftover rice is nice to have around. Then stick the pot under the tap and add water till it’s at least 2-3 inches higher than the level of the rice, but not so high that you risk boiling the pot over. Add a big pinch of salt and put it on the stove over medium-high heat. It’s best to get this started, and then start on the beans, so you’re in the kitchen the whole time and can keep an eye on the pot, but that’s not all you’re doing in there. Basically, you just want to bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat so the rice keeps moving around but things don’t get completely insane. The idea is, you’re boiling the rice like pasta. Once the water is boiling, the rice needs somewhere between 5 and 15 minutes to finish cooking. How do you know when it’s done? Just stick a fork in and pull out a few grains. You can tell when it’s getting close just by the look of the grains (un- or undercooked rice is smaller and more translucent), but just taste to make sure. When it’s done but a little al dente, pour everything into a mesh strainer, shake off the extra water, and dump the rice back into the pot, then cover and let it sit on the stove (off the heat) until everything else is ready to go.
For the beans:
1 onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons of butter or your fat of choice
2 cans black-eyed peas (or less, or more – this recipe scales easily)
Salt & pepper
Ground cumin and/or coriander (optional)
A splash of cider vinegar (optional)
Hot sauce (optional)
1. Melt the butter or heat your fat of choice (oil works, natch, and bacon fat is great if you’re not a vegetarian) in a big skillet (you want a wide pan so the beans can thicken up).
2. Add the onion and sauté until it starts to get golden. Then add the garlic and give it another 30 seconds or so. (At this point, if you want, you could add a little cumin and coriander, maybe ¼ to ½ teaspoon each, and toast them for another 30 seconds or so, but it’s not really necessary.)
3. Next add the beans – you’ll want to drain off some of the liquid first but I don’t bother rinsing them or anything like that; a touch of the canning liquid helps create a sort of sauce. (NOTE: Do NOT be tempted to substitute black beans, pinto beans, or any other favorite bean. There is truly something magical about black-eyed peas in this recipe. If you’re cooking your own dried beans, that’s another story, but then why are you reading this recipe? Also, be sure to get the black-eyed peas that aren’t already seasoned with pork and who knows what. Whole Foods sells plain canned black-eyed peas that have never let me down.) Season generously with salt and pepper. If you like things tangy, a splash of vinegar and/or vinegary hot sauce like Tabasco is nice.
4. Bring it up to a simmer and let it bubble away for 10 minutes or so, so the flavors can blend and whatnot.
Obviously you’re going to want to put some rice on a plate or in a bowl and then top it with some beans. But don’t stop there! I always add some combination of the following: shredded cheese (cheddar or jack makes the most sense), sour cream, fresh lime juice, salsa, chopped or mashed avocado, chopped tomatoes, more hot sauce, etc.
If you’re feeling ambitious, the beans and rice are especially delicious (like most foods) with fresh salsa. Here’s how I make it when I have time.
½ onion, about, chopped into big chunks
A handful of cilantro, leaves and small stems
1 jalapeno, top and core removed and cut into big chunks
1 big can of tomatoes, drained
Optional/to taste: Olive oil, red wine vinegar, sugar
Finely chop the onion, jalapeno and cilantro in a food processor, then scrape into a bowl. Put the tomatoes in the food processor and pulse until they’re finely chopped/liquidy. (Whole tomatoes work best for this, but diced work too. The fire-roasted kind adds a nice touch.) Add the tomatoes to the bowl along with the juice of a lime and about a teaspoon of coarse salt. Stir this around and taste for seasoning. I like to add just a dash of sugar and sometimes I little olive oil and red wine vinegar to round things out, but it depends how you like your salsa. Test with tortilla chips.
If you have leftover salsa, heat some up in a saucepan the next day and crack a couple of eggs directly into it, then cover and poach over low heat for five minutes. Serve the eggs and sauce over crushed tortilla chips. Brunch!
I got all set up to make the salsa and realized I didn't have cilantro, so I decided to just use the salsa I had in a jar in my fridge. I topped it with shredded cheese and it tasted great. I ate this again the next night with a little saute of kale and tomatoes on top, which was equally as good. I had a feeling this dish would make great leftovers, and I was right.
So go make these beans for dinner on a cold night and laugh and learn and read Elisa's great blog, The French Exit.