Sunday, April 20, 2008

poor man's rice and beans fit for a raj

There's a place on Lafayette Street called La Conquita that serves up the cheapest food that money can buy: rice and beans. There's always a line around the block and into the door of this little shack where, for just $4, you can get a heaping pile of white rice or yellow rice with black beans or red beans garnished with sweet fried plantains and vineagared onions. And if that isn't enough to feed you for the next three days, for $2 more you can top it off with roast pork, barbeque chicken or goat stew.

Rice and beans is widely considered the perennial poor man's food. Rice is cheap, beans are cheap, and you can make them in large enough quantities to provide sustenance and complete protein nutrition for lots of people. It is, next to ramen noodles, the standard meal for those trying to make ends meet. What better what to kick off this blog than with a recipe for my version of rice and beans?

With a little bit of spice from the spice rack and some fudging on the traditional ingredients, I turned rice and beans into a nouveau-Indian gourmet meal. The basic ingredients are very inexpensive; the only things that will cost you are the spices and the wine. A good spice rack, however, is an essential investment for any kitchen, and if you have old wine left in your fridge, it's good enough to use here.


Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a an appetizer

For the "Beans":

1/4 cup Spanish or Vidalia Onion, chopped
2 cloves Garlic, crushed
1/4 cup Tomato, chopped
1/2 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp Curry
1/4 tsp Garam Masala
2 medium Bay Leaves
1/4 tsp Red Chili Powder (optional)
1 can Chick Peas
1/2 cup Water
1/2 cup Chicken Stock
Splash of leftover Wine, red or white
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste

For the "rice":

1/4 Raisins or Currants
1/8 cup leftover Wine
1/2 cup Chicken Stock
1/2 cup Water
1 cup Cous Cous
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper, to taste

One handful of Arugula per plate

*Cook's Note: Anytime you cook with beans from a can, you must rinse them well in a colander under fresh, running water. You will notice that bubbles will appear; rinse until bubbles are gone. These bubbles are the gas bubbles in the beans that -- if not rinsed out -- become gas bubbles in your body.

Heat a small pot. Add olive oil at room temperature on medium heat. Add onions, and cook until just transparent. Add crushed garlic and tomatoes, sauté until tomatoes are soft. Add spices and stir. Add chick peas and mix to coat in oil and spices. When chick peas start to sizzle, add a splash of wine. Once wine has let off its liquor, about a minute, add water and chicken stock. Cover partially with a lid and turn down to a simmer. Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir occasionally until chick peas reach desired softness, with enough liquid remaining to constitute a sauce. Additional stock and water may need to be added throughout the simmering process.

In another pot, heat a small swirl of olive oil on high heat. Add raisins and cook about thirty seconds to one minute, until raisins start to lose their wrinkle. Add wine, turn heat down to low, and reduce to allow wine to become absorbed into the now bloated raisins. Once the wine has evaporated completely, add water and chicken stock. Bring liquid to a boil, add couscous and stir. Turn down heat to low and allow couscous to absorb liquid, fluffing occasionally with a fork, about one minute. Turn off heat, fluff couscous, and allow it to absorb remaining liquid. Add salt and pepper to taste.

To arrange on a plate, take a serving of couscous (about 1/2 to 1 cup) and pack tightly into a measuring cup or a similarly round, flat-bottomed vessel. Quickly turn over cup onto a plate, and tap the bottom to release a molded mound of couscous. Arrange a small handful of arugula in a bunch on top of the couscous. Delicately spoon a helping of chick peas on top, dressing with a spoonful of sauce from pot on top and around the dish. Garnish with mint, if desired.

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