Rice and Beans World Tour
Steaming plates of rice and beans conjure up images of mom's home cooking. Like sleeping late or downing a milkshake, the aromatic Latino staple satisfies in a tangible way. Aromatic vapors waft noseward carrying hints of oregano, garlic, and perhaps tomato or smoked chili.
Cheap chow, nutritious and filling rice and beans soothe the soul for pennies a plate. They can be made in advance, and are actually better the second day. And there's a virtual rainbow coalition of options. Skin color clues you in to whose recipe it is. Black beans are Cuba's favorite, while the Dominican Republic serves predominantly red beans. Mexicans choose pintos for frijoles refritos (refried beans) and Italian influence in South America led Peru and Ecuador to favor white beans. Puerto Rico is home of gandules (pigeon peas) and habachuelas rosatas (pink beans). In the Spanish-speaking world, rice and bean recipes are as important as their language.
Mexico has different components in its rice-and-beans-based cuisine than the Caribbean islands do. Vegetarians should ask what's in the recipe when ordering beans and rice in ethnic restaurants. Calling them “frijoles” instead of the Caribbean-Spanish “habachuelas,” south-of-the-border chefs make their beans richer with the addition of pork drippings or lard to offset spicy, chili-infused regional specialties. But many places make their beans vegetarian. Scooping up rice and beans in corn or flour flat breads (tortillas), the staples often become part of the Mexican versions of sandwiches: tacos, burritos, and tortas. Leftover vegetables atop arroz y frijoles in a store-bought flour tortilla is a wrap.
Although Mexicans use many types of beans, including black (veracruzanos) and white beans (aluvias), the most common are pinto beans (pintas). The famous dish frijoles refritos is often translated as “refried beans,” but actually means “very fried beans,” since the brothy, precooked beans are fried until almost dry. Mexicans habitually add the prefix “re” to words for emphasis. Before frying, these beans are cooked much the same way as on the islands: simmered slow and low.
Rice can be as simple as fluffy white grains, or as elaborate as vegetable-scented Mexican rice. Caribbean cooks tint rice yellow with seeds of the annatto tree (achiote), and flavor it with olives, peppers, and onions. No self-respecting Latino cook would use par-boiled (“converted”) rice. Long-grain whites, like those sold by Goya, Canilla, and Adolphus are fine. Rice can be reheated easily in the oven or microwave. Beans are generally better the second day, after the flavors marry. Quickly cooled after cooking, they freeze well or keep in the refrigerator for about one week.