Bean there, ate that: New Mexico memento inspires a versatile, home-cooked dish to last all week
MAKE IT: Almost Christmas Rice & Beans
1 cup brown basmati rice (long-grain)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ yellow onion, chopped (1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 can (14½ ounces) fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 can (4 ounces) diced Hatch green chiles
1 can (14½ ounces) pinto beans
½ cup chicken (or vegetable) stock
Diced avocado, fried egg, greens, hot sauce, to garnish (optional)
>Bring 6 to 8 cups water to a rolling boil in a medium saucepan. Stir in rice and cook 38 minutes. Drain in a colander 10 seconds then return rice to pan. Cover with a tight lid or foil and steam 10 minutes.
>Meanwhile, heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add onions. Sauté until translucent, 10 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 3 minutes. Add salt, spices, and tomato paste, and cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute.
>Stir in tomatoes with juice, chiles, beans, and chicken stock. Raise heat, bring to a boil, then simmer on medium heat 20 minutes. (If liquid evaporates too quickly, remove from heat and let flavors meld.)
>Stir steamed rice into bean sauce until coated. Taste and season with salt, if necessary.
>Serve hot with garnish of choice, if desired.
>Rice and beans may be refrigerated up to 1 week.
My favorite souvenirs are edible: What better way to relive the flavor of a journey than by enjoying a home-cooked meal made with native food? To me, this is a comforting way to blunt the inevitable post-trip comedown. As peaks and valleys seem to swing higher and lower during this pandemic, I knew that whole-food nutrition would fuel me through a mini funk following my Southwest cycling jaunt last week.
Driving through Santa Fe, I had stopped for lunch at Posa’s El Merendero Tamale Factory & Restaurant, one of few enticing takeout options from a short list of roadside eateries operating currently. The combo plate I devoured included a hearty portion of refried beans, made using harvest from a family farm in the Estancia Valley. I’d seen 2-lb. bags of pinto beans ($5) by the viewing window for Posa’s main attraction: a vast production facility where masked workers roll tamales to freeze and ship around the country (the closest to a COVID-friendly museum experience I got on this trip). So I returned to the register.
“Painted” in Spanish, due to their mottled appearance when raw, “pinto beans are the fifth-most important crop in the state of New Mexico,” according to the Ness Farms website, where I found a handy tip to store dried beans in the freezer for maximum freshness. “Approximately 78% (of bean production) lies in or around the Estancia Valley, making it the most important bean-producing region in the state.”
Though technically legumes, the beans represent one of New Mexico’s two official state vegetables. The other is chile pepper (a fruit, actually), seen on that combo plate in “Christmas-Style” red and green chile sauce, a favorite duo that defines Southwest cuisine.
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Since beans and rice are better together—the pair boasts nine essential amino acids in a complete form of protein, plus fiber, vitamins and other nutrients—I set out to simmer a Hatch green chile version in my home kitchen using other pantry staples: brown basmati rice and canned fire-roasted tomatoes for smoky flavor. (The recipe I created uses canned pinto beans as well, for ease; dried beans require additional soaking and cooking but boast enhanced flavor and texture.)
On my first attempt at a one-pot meal, I simmered the beans, rice and liquid together. After 80 minutes (and adding more water, since moisture evaporates more quickly at altitude), the rice still hadn’t finished cooking. Ah, the joy of cooking above 8,000 feet! What’s more, the precooked, canned pinto beans had turned to mush, turning the entire mixture into a gummy, gluey disappointment.
My time-saving solution (short of a pressure-cooker): Cook the rice in a large pot of boiling water, then drain (like pasta) and steam briefly. Meanwhile, simmer the beans in chile sauce separately, then stir in fluffy rice to finish. This method requires two pans, but the tradeoff is a rich, savory dish showcasing distinct grains of rice and tender, intact beans in under an hour.
This cozy creation yields a quick meal anytime: topped with diced avocado and a fried egg for breakfast; over steamed greens and roasted vegetables for lunch; or with cabbage slaw alongside bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin for dinner.
I may have eaten a few energy-boosting bites straight from the fridge with hot sauce, too.
Amanda Rae is the editor of “The Aspen Cookbook,” out now as a fundraiser for local restaurants. AspenCookbook.com
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