Rice and beans around the world!
I had this post on my list of things to write about for some time in the future. But last week I received an email from my old friend Lucy, in Australia, saying:
Not sure if you will get this in time but I have a hankering for that bean and rice dish we had while you were here, but I can’t remember the details.
Even though Lucy and I are not in regular contact, we are those kinds of old friends who can pick up the thread of conversation as if we only saw one another yesterday – even if it has actually been a year or more since we were last in touch. She was one of my first room-mates when I moved to Australia in the late 1980s. My last visit that she is remembering was back in 2008.
But I’d already been thinking about that rice and beans dish, and how intertwined it is with many of my friends around the world. I first learned the recipe back in 2005 or so, when I was staying with a friend of a friend in San José, Costa Rica.
Gallo pinto (which literally means something like “painted rooster” or “speckled hen,” in reference to the speckled nature of the black beans mixed with the white rice) is standard breakfast food in Costa Rica. Rice and beans are served with most dinners there. In the morning, the leftovers are mixed together to make gallo pinto. My friend’s friend’s wife Nana showed me her recipe (ingredients in bold):
Boiling the beans: OK, in North America, everyone seems to claim that they are too busy to soak and boil beans, so they get canned beans. Don’t do it! Canned beans come out about ten times more expensive, they are watery and flavourless, and all that shipping of metal and liquid around is bad for the environment. Soaking and boiling your own beans doesn’t actually take any of your time, it just takes a bit of planning.
Soak the dried black beans in about twice their volume of water, for 5 to 12 hours (so you can put them in overnight and boil them in the morning, or put them in in the morning and boil them when you get home from work). Get them up to a boil, and skim off any foam that comes to the top of the pot. Then add chopped garlic and fresh thyme – 8 or so branches of it. (And salt)
You can buy thyme at your local supermarket – or grow a pot or two of it over summer. The leaves fall off as it boils – when it is all done, the stems are long and solid and really easy to pick out. Both the thyme and the garlic make a HUGE difference to the flavour of the beans, so don’t slack off here! If you’ve bought your thyme, put the remainder of it as it is into a ziplock bag, squeeze the air out, and put in the freezer. Remove stems as needed: you’ll probably have enough for another 4 or 5 bean-boilings.
The beans usually take an hour and a half to boil (covered) but that varies with the freshness of the beans. Taste one after an hour or so. When they are mushy on your tongue, they are done.
Then for the gallo pinto: Boil white rice as normal. (As for quantities, usually you want 2 to 3 times as much cooked rice as cooked beans. I like cooking extra of both and using the leftovers in other meals).
Chop and fry a medium onion in some oil on low-medium heat. Don’t be shy about adding oil – it is the only fat in this dish, and fats are actually good for you. The onions shouldn’t really be browning, or maybe just a tiny bit.
When the onion is pale and transparent, add the cooked rice (doesn’t matter if it is cold leftovers or warm and freshly cooked) and some salt. If you didn’t use enough oil, the rice might stick – stir it constantly in any case.
Coarsely chop a big handful of fresh cilantro. Throw it in, stir. Add cooked black beans, trying not to get the liquid (it tastes fine with the liquid, just colours all the rice purple and doesn’t look at pretty). Stir more til it is all hot.
I make big batches of it. It keeps five days or more in the fridge, so I can take out a serving and heat it up really quickly. I eat my gallo pinto every morning – and I mean every morning – for breakfast, with a fried egg on top and salsa on top of that. For vegans, it is tasty with the just the salsa (it’s already a complete protein) or you can smush some avocado on top instead of the egg.
I don’t function well on sweet breakfasts (like granola, or toast with jam). I really need my gallo pinto, and I go to the effort of gettting the ingredients when I am travelling. Last year, visiting my sister in Ontario, I made it there – and now black beans and gallo pinto are regular menu items in her household! This December, staying with my friends Pato and Angela in Punta Arenas, Chilean Patagonia, I made it and they loved it too! When I headed further south, past Tierra del Fuego, to visit friends Cristina and Oli on Navarino Island, I brought a big tub of it already made – and their two year old there loved it too. While on Navarino, I received an email from Pato:
Hoy vinieron a almorzar unos amigos de Natales vegetarianos. Angela preparó los porotos negros con arroz integral al modo de Jackie, con salsa chipotle y lo disfrutaron mucho.
…saying that they had some vegetarian friends visiting from Puerto Natales, that they cooked them rice and beans “a la Jackie” and that it was a big hit!
And then, stopping through Phoenix, Arizona, on the way home, to support friends Deaune and Mike in the running of their first marathon there, I cooked up another batch of gallo pinto -and, again, a hit! Deaune wrote me later, to say that my healthy recipes had inspired her and her family to make positive permanent changes in their eating habits!
So, even before receiving this email from Lucy, I had been thinking: What a great thing, rice and beans around the world. Nana’s recipe, shared with me many years ago in Costa Rica, has travelled to so many distant corners of the world: southern USA and eastern Canada; southernmost Chile; Australia and – now that Cristina and Oli have moved to Germany – to Europe as well! A pretty delicious connection, linking so many of my friends around the globe.
Please comment here if you cook up some gallo pinto, so we can all see how far this connection continues to travel! (Comentarios en español beinvenidos… ¡los traduzco!)