Rice and Beans

Every year in the fall I go on a silent retreat at a Buddhist meditation center. It’s amazing what five days without a computer, cell phone, television, and talking can do for the mind and body. One of my favorite parts of the retreat, besides the peacefulness, is the new focus and dedication that I can give to meals. It’s hard to rush through your lunch when you have nowhere else to be and nothing you’re supposed to be doing.

When you are truly present, even a simple dish can taste amazing.  You begin to notice all of the small things about eating that you are usually too busy to experiece:  the aroma of the food, your watering mouth, what it feels like to chew, the feeling as the food reaches your stomach.  Not only does food taste better, but my body digests it better and I don’t overeat because I’m present enough to realize when I’m full. 

With that being said, it’s time for me to unplug for a little bit again. To remember life outside of emails. To be outside. To relish all of the beauty in my life and the blessings around me. To enjoy what quiet and simplicity feels like.  And to be present.  To be present at every meal, in every moment of my life, and with all of the people I love.    

This is where rice and beans come in.  Rice and beans sound so simple, and yet, they are extraordinary.  Rice and beans are a staple around the world with good reason – they are nutritious, affordable, and delicious.  You can use any type of rice and beans you desire and it always ends up as a nourishing meal.  I typically use brown rice and black beans, but I had some leftover sticky rice from homemade sushi and it was perfect for this.  
Here’s how it goes:  Make a pot of rice and a batch of beans, top with any vegetables and herbs lying around, and you have a quick and tasty meal.  It’s perfect for a weeknight dinner or as a way to clean out the random bits in your fridge.  It’s also great if you have some picky eaters in your house.  Everyone gets a bowl of rice and beans and they can pick their favorite toppings.  Genius.
Everyone has their own special way to prepare beans and this is my favorite way to cook black beans.  I like to make a big batch and freeze the extras for later.  I cook my beans with kombu (edible kelp) because it helps to soften the beans while cooking and it is a great source of trace minerals and aids in digestion.  If you prefer canned beans you can use the Eden Organic brand which are cooked with kombu (and come in BPA-free cans!).  
Kombu
 Cooking Basic Black Beans
1 pound black beans (about 2.5 cups uncooked, yields 6 cups cooked)
1 strip kombu
Water

Soak the beans overnight.  Drain the soaking water.  Add the kombu and beans to a large stock pot.  Cover with double the amount of water.  (This doesn’t have to be an exact science because any extra water will be drained at the end.)  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a very slow simmer.  Simmer for 45 minutes – 1 hour, or until beans are cooked.  The beans are done when they are chewable, but not mushy.  If there is any extra water, drain from the pot and remove your kombu.

Simple Black Beans
Serves 4

1 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
pinch of chile powder
4 cups cooked black beans
1 cup vegetable broth
2 bay leaves
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste
Add the olive oil to a pot over medium heat.  Saute the onion for 5 minutes, or until translucent.  Add the garlic, cumin, paprika, and chile powder and saute for an additional minute. Add the black beans, vegetable broth, and bay leaves.

Simmer for about 20 minutes, until beans are soft, and add salt and pepper to taste. Remove the bay leaves and serve.

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