by Jason Brechin
I love Mexican food. Actually, my whole family does. Luckily, we have some pretty good options around to get a tasty taco.
I think most people are pretty comfortable browning up some steak, chicken, ground meat, or veggies to throw into tortillas, but what about the sides? After all, tortillas aren’t the only staple food in Mexican cuisine. I’m talking about rice and beans.
They can be a meal on their own (together, rice and beans are one of the few vegetarian sources of complete protein), but they also make for a great accompaniment to just about any Hispanic meal.
I tend to go really basic with the rice, just throwing some long grain in our rice cooker. Sometimes I want something special to round out the plate, so I’ll add some aromatics and tomato to give it color and plenty of flavor. My frijoles (beans) are almost always black and “refried” with one very special ingredient.
No, not lard, though that would a delicious and traditional way to prepare them — I use butter. Sure, you could go and buy canned refried beans with soybean oil or some other unknown ingredients, but there’s no reason to do that to yourself.
I usually like to cook my own beans, but I always keep some canned black and pinto beans around. You can drain them and whiz them up with a stick blender, or buy the “fat free” refried beans. The ingredients on the label should only include “beans, water, salt.”
Frijoles Refritos (Refried Beans)
serves 4 as a side
• 2T butter
• 1/4 of a medium onion, diced
• 1 15-oz can of beans, fat free refried
• or about 2 cups drained and blended cooked beans (from a 15-oz can, or homemade)
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then toss in the onion.
2. Cook, stirring occasionally for a few minutes, until the onion is softened.
3. Stir in the beans, as you do they should absorb the butter.
4. Cook for 5-10 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally.
5. Taste and add salt if necessary.
If you want to spice them up a bit you could add some cumin or chili powder, but not too much. Now what if you have a child that doesn’t like finding cooked onions in their food (like my daughter)? If you have a stick blender, you can cut the onion a little bigger and then after everything has cooked together for a few minutes, buzz it up until it’s all smooth again. She has no idea.
Arroz Mexicano (Mexican Rice)
• 2T olive oil or butter
• 1/2 of an onion, diced
• 3 cloves garlic
• 2T tomato paste
• 1-2 t salt (less if your tomato paste is salty)
• 1 t cumin
• 1 t oregano (Mexican, if you have it)
• 3 c long grain rice (uncooked)
• 4 1/2 c water
1. Heat the oil or butter in a large pot over medium heat.
2. Add the onion and garlic and sautee until softened.
3. Add in the tomato paste and stir until it darkens slightly, 1-2 minutes.
4. Add in the salt, cumin, oregano, and rice and stir to combine.
5. Continue cooking the rice, stirring often, until it has dried slightly, but not browned. This will take 2-3 minutes, and you will notice the rice starts to sound like sand in the pot.
6. Add in the water, stir to combine.
7. Bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes.
This rice turns a beautiful orange color and tastes great with the creamy refried beans. We always make a ton of rice since it keeps and reheats so well. If you have more left over to use up, add it to a burrito or use it to kick off a Mexican-inspired fried rice dish. You could drop it into your next bowl of chicken soup and sprinkle on some crushed tortilla chips for a satisfying tortilla soup.
If you’re still hungry, check my blog today for a salsa recipe that will fire you up.
Jason Brechin is a Savoy resident, an unrepentant foodie and a dad of two whose passion for cooking led him to start Clever Food Blog, where he chronicles his adventures in the kitchen. You can find him here every other week, writing about cooking at home. Have an idea or question for Jason? Contact us and we’ll pass it on.