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Friday, August 24, 2012

Of Rice and Beans....

"I don't want arroz e feijao again," whispered my daughter to my ear after asking her grandmother what was there for lunch. We're in Rio de Janeiro, visiting my in-laws. For some reason, what immediately came up to my mind was HSBC's ad campaign (see below), that consists of three photographs of the same object, but each illustration has a different word defining its meaning or perspective to various peoples.

My daughter sees the daily dish of rice and beans as something repetitive, monotonous and a bit imposed, as something she wants to avoid as much as possible, but without breaking her grandma's heart. The Brazilian people see arroz e feijao as their national food, the ubiquitous presence in their lunch and dinner, the main component of their trademark feijoada, a part of their heritage, and the base of their sustenance. It's comfort food.
My mother-in-law sees it as black and white fork fulls of motherly love, responsibility, duty, and the conduct for the typical guilt-driven moral-blackmailing servings of a true Jewish (Brazilian) mother. If her grandchildren eat their arroz e feijao, life is good, and she'd have accomplished her goals!
I keep thinking about the ad campaign later, as I eat the arroz e feijao, that I happen to love, and wouldn't mind eating every day, twice a day and forever. I did grow up eating it often at home in Mexico under the name of "moros y cristianos" ("Moors and Christians," the darker hued beans standing for the Moors that dominated Spain before the XV century, and the light-colored rice representing the Christian Spaniards).
Rice and Beans, despite being such a favorite in Brazilian kitchens, is a popular pairing in all Latin America and the Caribbean (and I would venture to say the whole World, just the beans some times turn into other legumes such as lentils, garbanzos or soy). Different variations of dried beans native to the Americas might be used in the typical preparation. Black, kidney, blackeyed, pinto, red, cannellini or navy (the last two, types of white beans) could be served.
After the Conquest, the Spaniards, Portuguese, and the West African slaves shipped to the New Continent, brought with them rice. Eventually, a perfect marriage took place, resulting in one of the first, and probably the most important fusion dishes: rice and beans. Like a great couple, the cereal and the legume complement each other. The amino acids that each one lacks are provided by the other, therefore eaten together, they supply complete protein in a much less expensive manner than any meat. Rice has a high glycemic index (which might spike the glucose blood levels), and beans have the opposite effect, balancing out blood sugar and producing satiety. For many, many years, the rice and beans team has sustained nations by providing them with accessible complete protein, fiber, B vitamins, iron, potassium, manganese and magnesium.
Yes, in deed, they are a match made in heaven. However, I was too, adding my own HSBC meaning to the picture: white rice, while being the traditional choice since someone discovered that removing the bran and germ from rice produced beautiful, pure-looking white pearl-like grains, is not the healthiest option. As the process removes healthy oils, fiber, iron, magnesium, and vitamins B1 and B3, and produce a cereal with a higher glycemic index (which has even been associated with an increased risk for Type II diabetes), my own interpretation was, "why isn't this brown rice?". I mentioned it to my mother-in-law, and she said she'd tried, but my father-in-law refused to eat the unrefined version, so I guess he too as his own caption for the ad...
Well, we're all free to think whatever we want given our age, background, gender, nationality, education, culture, taste and status. However, my take is this:

-Enjoy arroz e feijao as often as you want. Mix them or keep them separate on the plate. It's up to you, as either way, it's a great dish!

-For optimal nutrition, the ratio should be about 2/3 beans and 1/3 rice (not more rice than beans!)

-Garnish it with a salad or a salsa-type sauce, as the vitamin C present in tomatoes, chile peppers, citrus and other raw fruits and vegetables is great for leveraging the combination even further, as it makes its iron much better absorbed by our bodies. And as always, fruits and veggies always contribute with their vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Raw garlic is heavenly in taste and in keeping us healthy, goes great with rice and beans. Some pico de gallo (tomato, onion, lime juice,green chiles, fresh cilantro, evoo and a bit of salt) is awesome, or make the Brazilian "molho vinagrete" (a similar version with chopped tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, parsley, cilantro, scallions, evoo, vinegar, salt and pepper), they are both fabulous!

-Play around with whole grain rice. Rice comes in many varieties such as Japonica, basmati, arborio, jasmine, long and short grain, etc. My favorite whole grain rice types are forbidden rice (Chinese black rice), which is full of antioxidants, Bhutan red rice (Lotus Foods offers both, but other brands sell them as well), germinated brown rice (by truRoots) and brown sushi rice. They are all very delicious, and you won't miss the polished versions.

-To make beans more digestible (aka less gas-y), soak them in water (enough to cover beans by 2 inches) overnight (or even 24 hours, if you can); or boil them in water for 2 minutes, turn the heat off and let them soak for 1 hour. In either case, discard the soaking liquid, rinse and drain beans and cook them in fresh water. Some people suggest adding garlic, bay leaf and a clove to make them even more digestible.

-Rinsing or soaking rice is not indispensable, but recommended.

-Add salt to rice before boiling it, but salt beans half way through the cooking time.

-There are many techniques for cooking rice and beans. My favorite way for beans is in the slow cooker, but you could use the oven or the stove. Rice cookers are great for the grain, but there's no need to get one if you don't make it that often. The rice-water ratio is usually 1 part rice to 2 parts water, but depends on the specific kind of rice and cooking method. Here are great step by step instructions in The Kitchn at:

-Nutritional yeast can be a great flavor enhancer for rice and beans.

-Play around with the kinds of beans. There are worth exploring, as they come in a huge range of colors and sizes. sells fantastic ones.

-Cooked beans freeze beautifully.

Oh No! Not again!

Oy Vey! You're killing me. Just eat it. You're so skinny!

Delicious national pride!

Perfection. Don't you dare change it.


Where's the whole grain?

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