Cena Mexicana, Primera Part

Last week, I had a huge craving for rice and beans so I went to a Mexican take out place (Tijuana Tacos) during lunch. It was so good but my craving wasn't 100% sated so I set out to try and make my own rice and beans and ended up cooking an entire Mexican-themed meal. I'll break it up into a few different blog posts; this post will be dedicated to the rice & beans.

I decided to make up my own recipe, based on a couple versions of rice & beans that I'd seen a few different Food Network shows, and it turned out surprisingly well. [SERVES 4]

Ingredients for rice:
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 cup medium or long grain rice
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1-1/4 cups chicken stock

Ingredients for beans:
15 oz. can of black beans
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup diced bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cubanelle pepper, diced
1/2 jalapeno pepper, diced
2 slices of bacon, diced
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup chicken stock
salt to taste

I finely diced 1/4 of a sweet onion, 1/2 a cubanelle pepper, 1/2 a small bell pepper, 1/2 a jalepeno pepper, and 4 cloves of garlic.

The onion, bell pepper, and garlic were evenly split between both the rice and beans and the jalepeno and cubanelle were added to just the beans.
Most of the beans I saw on television were made using hamhocks (the part of the pig that attaches the foot to the leg) but I decided to use bacon instead. I figured it would add a similar smoky, meaty flavor but I wouldn't have to touch a wrinkly hamhock (which grosses me out a little).

I used 2 slices of bacon and put it in the freezer for a few minutes to make it easier to cut up.
I put a pot on the stove over medium heat with a little oil (1/2 a teaspoon - I used olive oil) and then tossed in the bacon to render out some fat. I like to use a bit of oil just to help the bacon "get started."
Once the bacon got a little bit of color and enough fat had rendered out, I added in the vegetables.
Next, I sprinkled in 1/2 a teaspoon each of red wine vinegar, oregano, and ground cumin straight into the pot of veggies and bacon.

I used a 15oz. can of black beans, drained them, and rinsed them. I'm really sensitive to salt so I rinsed the beans really thoroughly. The beans are canned in a brine so they tend to be rather salty. To reduce the amount of sodium even more, I'd recommend that you soak the beans in water for at least half an hour.
I also added a bay leaf to the pot and kept the salt handy, just in case.
Then, I poured in about a 1/2 cup of chicken stock (just enough to make the beans look like soup) and let the pot simmer. Once half of the liquid has cooked off, about 20 minutes, the beans are done.
Meanwhile, I was simultaneously working on the rice. In a small saucepan, I added the remaining onion, bell pepper, and garlic along with a 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil (though you can use whatever plain-tasting cooking oil you prefer).

Then I added 3/4 cup of rice and half of an 8 oz. can (or 1/4 cup) of tomato sauce to the pot along with 1-1/4 cup of chicken stock. If you don't have stock at home, you could certainly use water but you'll have to add in some salt.
Growing up in a Korean household, I was used to the ritual of rinsing short grain rice, popping it in the rice cooker, and walking away. However, to be honest, I prefer long-grain rice over sticky rice so I experimented with cooking non-sticky rice over the years. Thus, I have developed a particular technique for cooking rice on the stovetop.

I like to cook my rice in the pot with the lid off. I put the heat on low (keep it at a simmer) and let it cook until most of the liquid has absorbed/evaporated and I'll even give it a stir every once in a while (not enough to turn it into risotto - or a gummy mess - but enough to make sure it's not sticking to the bottom). After about 10 minutes, the liquid will be mostly absorbed but the rice will still be slightly al dente. That's when I'll pop the top on, turn off the stove, and leave the rice alone. The lid will trap in any residual heat and in the end, the rice ends up perfectly done and fluffy.

rice & beans
¡buen provecho!


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