14 January 2012

Spicy Rice with Black Beans

Hello, my name is Jen and I am a spicy food junkie.

Sad to say, I'm actually not interested in a 12-step program to cure my addiction.  The nasal-clearing rush you get from a big green pea of wasabi on a piece of sushi.  The tingling burning lips you get from too much hot-label salsa on a burrito.  The kick in the back of the sinuses you get from a cheese sandwich slathered with English mustard.  The combination of blistering hot sauce on wings that can only be tamed by a dip in some blue cheese sauce.  These are happy feelings.

Generally, I don't indulge this urge for spice very much these days.  As you can see from the recipes on this site, Portugal is a land where the flavors match the temperament of its people and its climate: mild, pleasing, and friendly.  On the rare occasions I have encountered "spicy" food, I find that my weathered American tastebuds barely register the kick, while Portuguese friends are gulping water and fanning their mouths.

Sometimes, though, a girl needs her heat.  And this Jamaican-inspired baked rice and bean dish really hits the spot.

There are other virtues to this dish as well.  It is a one-pot meal, it is protein-loaded but vegetarian, it is madly economical, and it has a crispy top crust that is heavenly and crunchy and perfect. 

And though it is spicy, the coconut milk in which you cook the rice manages to mellow it out, making it a more mild and friendly kind of heat.  Slightly more luso-picante, if you will. 

And yes... I will.  Another serving, please.  

Don't judge me.  I can quit any time I want!

Jamaican Baked Black Beans and Rice
serves 6
from How to Cook Everything

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, in thin slices
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (depending on your heat tolerance)
3/4 cup dried black beans, washed, picked over, and soaked*
1 1/2 cups long-grain rice
14-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
salt and pepper
1 tsp thyme

* You can substitute 2 cups canned beans, if you want.  The end result will be mushier beans, but still delicious.  Add them, rinsed, in step one as directed, but skip the addition of water and boiling time. Continue the recipe as directed.
1. Over medium heat, put the oil in a large shallow oven-proof pot.  When the oil is hot, add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, and red pepper flakes.  Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and translucent.  Add the beans and cover with water.  Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to low so that it just bubble gently.  Cover loosely and cook, adding more water as necessary, until the beans are about half-done-- softening on the outside but still tough on the inside.  This could take from 40 minutes to an hour.
2. Preheat the oven to 350F (175C).  Use a potato masher to semi-puree the bean mixture, being sure to leave about half of the beans unmashed.
3. Stir in the rice, coconut milk, a good amount of salt and pepper and the thyme.  Bake the pot in the oven until the rice and beans are tender, about an hour.  Add water as necessary throughout the cooking time-- I needed to use almost an entire cup by the end.
4. Remove from the heat, season with more salt and pepper if needed.  Serve piping hot and crusty.  

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