What’s in a name?
OK, Romeo, it’s completely possible that a “a rose by another name would smell as sweet,” but if you’re talking about serving a big heap of beans and rice (which I am), then I’d argue that the name matters quite a lot. After all, if there is a town in America without a Chipotle restaurant, then it’s probably someplace in Wyoming where people subsist primarily on wild game. Chipotle has built a food empire on not much more than different permutations of beans and rice. Beans and rice wrapped in an expansive tortillas, tucked into soft or crispy taco shells, or spooned into a simple bowl with toppings. If they called those bowls “beans-and-rice,” would you have stood in line to buy one the first time?
Likewise, if you shouted up the stairs to your family, “Beans and rice with stuff on top!”, you’d likely get one of two reactions. Reaction #1 (if your family is accustomed to vegetarian dining): “AGAIN?” Reaction #2 (if your family isn’t used to vegetarian dining): “With what else?” I used to make this with a side of crock-pot pork that I’d seasoned with chili powder and cumin, but I realized that no one really cared about that part of the dish, so I dropped it. They liked sprinkling the shredded cheese and hoarding all the green onions and drowning the whole mess in green sour cream and/or salsa. In short, this meal’s joy comes from customizing the toppings…and, of course, from calling it “burrito bowls” and serving it with a quantity of tortilla chips that would cost you a small fortune at Chipotle!
For the beans…
1 pound of pinto or black beans
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 big onion
2 stalks of celery
1 bell pepper
1 can salsa-style tomatoes
4 (or more) fat cloves of garlic
2-4 tablespoons chile powder (depending on how hot you like it)
1 tablespoon cumin
2 tablespoons lime juice
lots of salt (start with a teaspoon or so and go from there)
Start by soaking your beans in very salty water overnight. I know that sounds silly and even problematic–did you grow up, like I did, hearing that you should never salt dried beans or they won’t get soft?–but I swear it is worth the very minimal effort involved. I put a small palmful of kosher salt in mine. Some of it does sink to the bottom, but some of it dissolves into the water and works its magic on the beans. The resulting cooked beans will be creamy and tender in a way you’ve never seen before.
Then drain off most of the water from your beans, add in the vegetables, the canned tomatoes, and the lime juice. Taste for seasoning and (probably) add more salt. You can simmer this for as little as 10 or 15 minutes or up to an hour, if you need to.
Cook your rice.
This is a super-simple technique that lets you add a little bit of whatever flavor you like to the rice while it cooks:
3 cups of rice
4 1/2 cups water or broth
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon spice of your choice and/or a couple cloves of chopped garlic
1. In a strainer, rinse the rice well, until the water runs clear.
2. Heat a pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add the butter or olive oil and get it hot. Add your salt, spice and/or garlic. Cook, stirring, very briefly, just until you get a burst of happily toasted fragrance.
3. Add the rice, with as much of the excess water shaken off as possible. Stir it into the hot, seasoned butter/oil and allow it to toast for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
4. Add the broth or water, stir it together once, and then put a lid on it. Turn down the heat and cook for about 18-20 minutes, until the liquid is all absorbed. Off the heat, let it stand for another 10 minutes or so before serving.
Now the fun part:
Put together your toppings. We use cheese, green sour cream, avocado, chips, my daughter’s favorite salsa, and the green onions that we’re happily harvesting from the garden. Just look at these little beauties (When your food has visible dirt on it, it’s a good sign):