It’s time for another item from the DC Omnivore 100 list of the top one hundred foods every good omnivore should try at least once in their lives.
After all the turkey, potatoes, gravy and stuffing from the past week, let’s take a flavor profile U-turn to explore the popular Latin American and Caribbean dish, rice and beans.
Prepared separately, rice and beans are usually served side by side, not mixed together, and can be both a main and side dish. Traditionally, the rice is usually of the white grain variety, but can be seasoned to take on a more creole or Spanish style flavor. In researching the dish, I was surprised to learn that rice is not a native grain to America, rather it was introduced to the continent by European colonists during the early 16th century. Rice provides an abundance of nutrients, like iron, protein, and vitamin B. As a starch, rice is also an excellent source of energy.
The beans is where you’ll find a lot of variety. Beans can black, red or brown, and can be cooked from in either dried and fresh forms. Like its rice counterpart, beans contain a wealth of iron, protein and other necessary vitamins.
Individually, rice and beans are a good source of amino acids, but when combined the two complement each other to assemble all essential amino acids and make complete protein, whoopee! This combination is what makes rice and beans a hearty, tasty and healthy food for a large portion of the Earth’s population.
Here in the District, with an abundance of Mexican, Brazilian, Cuban and Caribbean restaurants, there are plenty of places to enjoy rice and beans. At Cactus Cantina, your likely side dish will be the Mexican classic frijoles a la charra, comprised of brown beans coupled with bacon and onions, and accompanied by a yellow seasoned rice with peas and red peppers.
Should you want a Cuban spin, check out Havana Cafe at 1825 I Street NW. Don’t be fooled by its food court locale, this place serves up sides of rice and black beans with its ropa vieja, masitas de puerco, etc. for a reasonably priced lunch. As I’m not a spicy fan, I’ve also been told that Havana’s hot sauce is a must try.
Another great rice and beans dish with a different cultural spin can be found at The Islander Caribbean Restaurant on U Street. Here Trinidadian Chef Addie curries garbanzo beans with her own secret set of spices, which can be married with a simple white rice. The spiciness of the garbanzo beans (aka: chick peas) pairs amazingly with the baseness of the white rice allowing the curry to fully develop. Be sure to also check out Addie’s plantains. Yum!
Of course, you can also make your own rice and beans at home. Personally, I’m a big fan of black beans and white rice, although I’ve been known to dabble with red beans and yellow rice as well. If you’re in a time crunch then go with the canned bean variety and instant rice variety will do, but should you have the time and want to throw yourself in full force, dried beans and long grain rices are the best. Basic dried bean cooking time will take somewhere around 2 hours with the rice cooking for 20-30 minutes. You’ll find a large assortment of dried and canned rice and beans in your local grocery store with recipes to be found on their packaging.
Remember that although most of us think of rice and beans as sides, this tasty dish can easily transform into a main dish with the addition of vegetables, minced meat, tofu, cheese, etc. No one puts rice and beans in the corner. No one.