My father had what I like to think of as a “healthy unhealthy” obsession with beans and rice, particularly toward the end of his life. “It is the perfect food,” he would tell me, and I would roll my eyes, because I found it boring and uninspiring. He had my mother prepare it for him the same way, all the time — a package of Zatarain’s Red Beans & Rice, and a package of chicken sausage, cut up. I hated the smell of the chicken sausage, which he insisted was most easily cooked in the microwave, and refused to even try his ‘perfect food.’ There was nothing about it that appealed to me.
Now, as I find myself trying to stretch a food budget as well as find meals that are fast and easy to prepare, I’ve begun to see the beauty of beans and rice as the base of a meal that can be filling, flavorful, and anything but dull. I’ve made my own variations in recent weeks, and though I don’t have any pictures to share, I thought that I might inspire your own rice and bean creations.
The first I tried was a sort of Italian-inspired version. I sauteed up some spicy Italian sausage, out of the casings, and to that I added some fresh spinach, until it was wilted. In my rice cooker, I prepared two cups of rice, with chicken broth, garlic powder, onion flakes and parsley. I combined these together, along with a can of crushed tomatoes, two cans of cannellini beans, and a can of Progresso three-cheese sauce starter. (I love Progresso sauce starters for cheating on a fast meal — I have a huge section of them in my pantry!) It was delicious, and made about six servings — enough leftovers for two more meals.
The next one was sort of an experiment. I had picked up some salami and pepperoni end, big thick chunks of it, with the intention of making some kind of casserole, but I hadn’t had time to plan it out. I started by chopping that up and rendering it in a pan. I added a can of fire-roasted corn, a can of crushed tomatoes, a can of pinto beans and a can of Progresso roasted garlic sauce starter. I also added some leftover slow-cooked chicken from the barbecue chicken pizzas I had made the day before (take my advice — if you’re making barbecue chicken pizza at home, spend a little extra for smoked mozzarella. It makes all the difference.) This time, I prepared my rice with beef broth. Ian and I each augmented the dish with our favorite hot sauces, and although I should have added a second can of beans, again were able to eat for several meals with very little effort, and not get tired of it.
Tonight, I think I will try again. I’m thinking perhaps I will thaw out a chuck steak from the freezer, slice it thin and sautee it with onions and garlic, and add a couple of cans of mushrooms, some frozen spinach, and a can of Progresso creamy portabella mushroom sauce starter, for a sort of Stroganoff-esque twist. I should probably say now that I don’t receive a kickback from Progresso; I just really enjoy the product and find it saves me a lot of time lately. With a three-month-old, I don’t have a whole lot of extra time kicking around, so anything I can spare is something to be grateful for. Plus, I can usually find the sauce starters relatively inexpensively, which makes them all the more convenient to keep on hand.