Let’s start with the classic rice and beans dish that most voodies and foodies love: Rice and Beans.
Now forget all the images of tasteless sticky filler stuff you get at most Mexican joints, or fast food places. The best, most fullfilling, and tastiest rice and beans comes from the Carribean, most specifically Puerto Rico and Jamaica. You will need two special items that can found in most grocery stores, if you can’t find them, any decent voodie would move! They are sofrito (frozen) and coconut milk (canned).
Sofrito is heaven. It’s a type of relish/sauce that is made up of cilantro, culantro, carribean peppers, onions, and salt and pepper. It’s used to season rice, beans, soups, stews, and pretty much anything you want. I even put it on tofu! The best sofrito is homemade, but frozen ones will do. I have posted a link to to a recipe below. Word to the wise, sofrito should NOT be eaten raw. Period.
Coconut milk is used as a substitute for water. The coconut milk, which is optional, adds a nice sweetness that kicks in after some bites. If you don’t like coconut milk, you don’t have to use it. I tend to use a bit of it when I make rice and peas (that is the Jamaican kind).
The thing about Carribean rice and beans is that it has enough taste to stand up on its own. It is flavorful, spicy (not hot) and savory. It is not white rice, with canned beans. There is a level of layering flavors that is uniquely carribean. If your palette is well developed you will be able to taste all the ingredients and be pleasantly surprised. In fact, in some ways rice is like tofu, it can absorb the flavors you put into it, if you know how cook it well. And give yourself some room to mess up, cooking this kind of rice often is like a dance. The more you cook it, the better it comes out, and the least you have to think about it.
The recipes below are good for the those of us who are starting.
You know you have cooked it well, when you don’t want to stop eating it. There many people who love these dishes so much that they can eat rice and beans out of bowl, fully satisfied, as a meanl. Howerver, most people consider rice and beans a side dish….so for our foodie friends, don’t serve rice and beans to vegeterains and think it is a meal, it’s not. Would you like to eat rice and beans full meal, probablly not. Add a few side dishes like a nice fresh salad, yuca, or platanos, and everyone will be fully satisfied.
When making the dishes below—-make note to the following
1. DO NOT OVER STIR THE RICE: The biggest mistake that ameturs make is that they stir the rice. The result is a hot sticky mess. That may work out when eating Asian style rice, but it is a big no no when eating carribean. I say give your self a three stir limit. That’s it, no mas.
2. BEANS: If you use canned beans, which I do without hesittion, wash the beans throughly before you put them in the rice. I find a good wash get’s rid of the metallic taste that many people often sense. If you are going to use dried beans, you have to soak them overnight and do all sorts of things which will go on for hours. Dry beans do taste better in the long run, but that requires a recepie forthcoming on a different post.
3. Good Rice TAKES TIME: When cooking rice…. make the rice first, since it takes about forty minutes to cook well. That’s right forty minutes. Remember, were are talking Carribean rice and bean here, not the plain old thing most of us are use to it. It is a common mistake to to cook the rice last, which means everyone will be waiting to eat, and the rice won’t be done. Start with the rice.
Happy eating everyone!