Meatless Monday Mexican Rice and Beans

We’re back from a whirlwind 10-day trip to the Circle B West and visiting lots of family in California.  It was great fun, but we’re pretty happy about being home and settling back in to life here in our little corner of the world.  It’s very quiet here.   Very quiet.  But then come the little knocks on the kitchen door and a couple of excited little eyes peering in through the glass.  Nothing like those happy reunion hugs and the announcement that they’re having a “welcome home party!”  Oh, welcome home indeed.

Now, how do I segue from that to my love for Mexican rice and beans.  There’s really no connection, but it’s Meatless Monday and I’m going to follow up my fish taco post with this one about their very best friends…. Rice and beans!

I have to confess that one of my favorite things about eating at Mexican restaurants is the rice and beans.  And I have been known to judge those restaurants based solely on the quality of those rice and beans.  I mean, if they’ve got that down, they probably know what they’re doing.

There’s no doubt that making good Mexican rice and beans at home can be challenging.  The very best takes time, but done well, they're well worth some time and effort.  I’m going to offer you a couple of shortcuts, but if you love really good rice beans, it’s just going to take a little time.  It’s not hard though, and once you’ve made them, there’s just no going back.

Let’s start with the rice.  I began with a recipe a few years back that really was quite involved, but over time I’ve shortened some of the steps without sacrificing any of the flavor or texture.  The key to really good Mexican rice is toasting the rice.  For at least 10 minutes.  This is going to require stirring occasionally, but how hard is that?  Don’t skip this step, though.  Toasting the rice gives it tons of flavor and that distinctive texture. 

The other flavor infusion comes from pureeing tomatoes and onions together, and here’s my super easy tip.  You’re going to use equal parts rice, chicken stock and tomato/onion puree.  So for 1 cup of rice, you will be using 1 cup of puree (1/2  of a 14-oz can of tomatoes and ½ of a med. onion) and 1 cup of chicken stock.  Works every time.

For the beans…we really love using black beans for this, and I soak the dried beans overnight before cooking them.  I like to start them early in the day so the flavors have time to develop and permeate those little beans.  I sauté a little onion and garlic, and then add my dried seasonings (cumin, coriander, oregano and crushed red pepper).  After these have cooked a few minutes with the onions, I use a spider strainer to fish the cooked beans out of the pot and add them to the seasonings, along with as much of the cooking liquid as I need to almost cover the beans.  This gets to simmer happily on the stove for much of the day and then right before serving, I use my immersion blender to briefly mash up about half of the beans and thicken them a little.  A final addition of chopped cilantro and a drizzle of red wine vinegar brightens them up and you have yourself some super delicious beans to go with that rice.

Whether you nestle them next to some tacos or eat them in a shallow bowl with a sprinkling of jack cheese and cilantro, these are some pretty delectable rice and beans.  There’s no doubt you have to set aside a little time to make them, and it would be so much easier to just open a can or use a box mix.  But other than time, there’s very little effort for such a big flavor payoff.  And if you’re going to eat rice and beans, you deserve something special, right?  I think you do, so here’s the recipe…

Mexican Black Beans

Printable Recipe

1 pkg dried black beans, soaked overnight
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 large-ish onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ tsp crushed red pepper (optional)
2 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
Fresh chopped cilantro

Drain and rinse the soaked black beans and return them to the pot (I use a large stainless steel pot).  Cover with water by about 2 or 3 inches.  Add 2 tablespoons of salt and bring to slow boil and then simmer for 2 to 2 ½ hours.  I leave the beans in their liquid and scoop them out with a spider (handled strainer).  You could drain them, just save the liquid.

Meanwhile, in a heavy, 3-4 qt. pot, saute the onion in the oil until soft.  Add the garlic, cumin, crushed red pepper, oregano, coriander, salt and pepper.  Saute for a minute or two and then add the beans  add about 2 cups of the cooking liquid.  Stir and then let simmer partially covered for an hour or two.  Using an immersion blender, puree about 1/3 or ½ of the beans.  If the beans are have too much liquid, let them simmer uncovered until they thicken up.  If they’re too thick, add a little more of the bean cooking liquid.  Taste and add salt if needed.  Cover and let them sit on low simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes.  Just before serving, add the vinegar and cilantro. 

Mexican Rice

Printable Recipe

Serves 4-6 as a side dish

1 1/2 cups long-grained white rice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup salsa
1 1/2 cups water or chicken broth 
1 1/2 teaspoons salt 

Measure the rice into a fine mesh strainer and set that in a larger bowl.  Run cold water over the rice, sloshing it around with your fingers.  When the rice is submerged, turn off the water and continue to slosh the rice around for another minute.  Remove the strainer from the bowl and pour out the water.  Repeat this 3 times.  Let the rice drain and dry for about 10 minutes.

Heat about 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a 10-inch sauté pan and add the rice.  Saute the rice over medium to medium-high heat, stirring most of the time, for about 6 to 8 minutes, until it’s starting to get golden brown and toasty.

Mix together the salsa, water or chicken broth and the salt and pour it over the rice.  Stir to mix well and bring to boil.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and let the rice cook for about 15 minutes, or until the liquid is evaported.

Remove the pan from the heat.  Remove the lid, but do not stir the rice.  Place a clean towel over the pan and replace the lid tightly over the towel.  Let this sit for about 15 minutes, then fluff the rice with a fork and serve.