suicidally spicy salsas that I made for the same meal. And obviously, I couldn't wait a single second to talk about the far flashier fire noodles—my mouth was still tingling with the phenomenal heat from that dish when I sat down and started writing about it. I got so desperate for new material that I tackled the sticky rice that I'd been putting off for four years. Anything to avoid writing about (yawn) beans and rice. So boring. They're the black flats of food.
But that commonplace, everyday practicality is exactly why a great recipe for beans and rice is so valuable. They go with everything. Unlike say, chicken biryani or zhong zi—dishes that only come out once or twice a year—beans and rice show up on my table at least once or twice a month. Their primary purpose is as an accompaniment to tacos and the like. But the leftovers are endlessly flexible: reheated the next morning for huevos rancheros or a breakfast burrito, used as the base for my super spicy chili, piled atop a big stack of nachos with all the fixings, or watered down into a black bean soup and served with wedges of lime. Suddenly those humble sides don't seem so boring anymore.
The common thread in all of the better Latin-American bean recipes I've tried is chipotles in adobo sauce and epazote. Epazote is a Mexican herb, believed to combat some of the (ahem) less attractive side effects of bean consumption. Tasted raw, it has an interesting, slightly astringent property, not unlike shiso or Persian basil. Cooked with beans, it adds a deep, funky note that is difficult to describe but somehow amplifies the flavor and complexity, transforming beans into beans. Imagine that last beans being spoken in a suave voice, not unlike the Old Spice guy's. Using lard as my cooking fat probably didn't hurt things either.
As for the rice, I've long loved Mexican red rice, but my husband, who is an otherwise wonderfully flexible eater, has a distinct dislike of tomatoes in any form. I know. When we were first dating, this led to all kinds of incredulous questions: Not even in salsa? Not even on pizza? Nope. Nope. The one exception, and brace yourself, because this is a weird one, is gazpacho. Don't even get me started. Which is why, even though I personally adored the Spanish rice from Simply Recipes, I kept the search going until I landed on the following arroz verde, with nary a tomato in sight.
Best Black Beans Ever (adapted from The Homesick Texan)
2 cups dried black beans
1 tablespoon of lard (or other cooking fat)
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 can chipotles in adobo, diced
A couple sprigs of fresh epazote, washed
2 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Juice from two limes
4 cups of water
2 cups of chicken or vegetable broth
Salt to taste
Cilantro and queso fresco for serving
1. Pick over the beans for stones and broken pieces, then rinse the beans well, cover with cold water, and soak overnight. If you're making this the same day, which I pretty much always am, just soak the rinsed beans in boiling water for an hour.
2. Drain the beans.
3. In a Dutch oven or large pot, heat up your cooking fat for a minute, then add the diced onions and cook for about ten minutes, over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the chipotles and their sauce, the beans, and the epazote.
4. Now add the water and broth, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer, covered, for about an hour.
5. After an hour, test a bean. It should be nearly cooked. Al dente, if you will. Fish out and discard the epazote. Add the cumin, tomato paste, lime juice, and salt to taste. Then cook for another 20-30 minutes. The first night, I like to serve these whole, with the merest smidgen of their cooking liquid. To change things up, you could blend them with an immersion blender when you reheat the leftovers. Either way, they are excellent topped with a bit of fresh, chopped cilantro and crumbled queso fresco.
Green Poblano Rice (adapted from Rick Bayless)
1½ cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 poblano chiles (sometimes labelled pasilla) or other green, mild chiles, stems and seeds removed, and roughly chopped
3 serrano chiles, roughly chopped
12 sprigs of cilantro
1 tablespoon of canola or olive oil
1 cup of rice (I used long-grain, but Bayless recommends medium grain)
½ white onion, cut into small dice
5 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of salt
1. In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the broth and chiles (poblanos and serranos) and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer gently for about ten minutes, or until chiles are quite soft.
2. Pour this mixture into a food processor or blender, add the cilantro (stems and all) and blend to a smooth puree. You can strain this puree if you like, but I make mine more rustic style (read lazy) and just use it as is. Salt to taste.
3. Wipe the saucepan clean. Heat the oil on medium and add the onions, followed by the rice. Cook these for about five minutes, until the onion has softened and the rice has taken on a chalky appearance. Add the garlic and cook for a minute longer.
4. Add the blended chile liquid to the saucepan, stir together with the rice, then cover and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Uncover and check your rice. It should be nearly cooked (if not, cover and continue heating for a few more minutes). When rice is just about done, turn off the heat and let it stand, covered, for 5-10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.