Even those of us watching our waistlines need a little comfort food now and then. For me, one of my favorite go-to’s is rice and black beans. A warm, tasty dish of soft rice and dark, creamy black beans always conjures up memories of Brazil for me.
When I was in high school, I scrimped and saved at a part-time job to pay for the airfare portion of a semester study abroad program, for which my dad agreed to pay the program fee. I had studied French for 3 years and so, of course, that was naturally my first pick for a study abroad experience. Fortunately or unfortunately, the agency came back and told me that they had already placed their full quota of students in France and so I could wait until the following year — which would be my senior year, not an option in my book — or I could go to Finland, Columbia or Brazil. After weighing my options carefully, I chose Brazil. And this turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made in my life.
I didn’t speak a word of Portuguese when I went to Brazil. I was placed with a family that didn’t speak any English and became very upset with me when I became fast friends with a gay class-mate — homosexuality was not exactly acceptable in their culture. Long story short, I ended up moving in with that friend, my dear Brazilian brother, and had the time of my life.
Meals in Brazil are very different from American meals. Breakfast consists of sweet, milky coffee and a simple roll. Lunch on the other hand is a very big affair, equivalent to our dinners, where the entire family gathers around the table and indulges in a full blown meal. A staple at this meal, literally every day, is white rice and black beans that have been slowly simmered until they are thick and creamy. The Brazilian dinner is then very light, similar to our lunches, and very often will consist of leftovers from their lunch, such as a simple sandwich or leftover rice and beans scrambled with an egg.
A bowl of rice and beans always conjures up happy Brazilian memories of warm sunshine, the pristine white sand beaches of Bahia, laughing with my friends, a smoky discotheque blaring Rick Astley on the dance floor, grinding my hips to the lambada, glittery Carnaval dresses, sucking fresh milk from a straw buried deep in a large green coconut, tiny bikinis nicknamed “fio dental” (translation: dental floss), crushing on a cute guy named Fabio, bobbing through the big waves at Jacairipe, bumping over rough rural roads in the car, and mostly the everlasting bonds of friendship and love that I formed there and still cling to today.
This recipe is nowhere close to what you can expect in Brazil, it is of my own creation. I used a brown rice to enrich the nutrition value of the dish and added some heat with the smoky, spicy chipotle pepper. The black beans are simple in nature, simmered with sauteed onions, garlic, mild sweet peppers, and tomatoes. Topped with a dollop of light sour cream and a sprinkling of freshly chopped cilantro, it is the perfect comfort food dish.
And finally, to those students out there, or those parents with students, I offer this advice: take advantage of your school’s study abroad program. It is the best real-life education you can possibly get and will change your life forever.
Recipe of the Week
Dirty Chipotle Rice and Black Beans
- 1 cup dry black beans
- 4 cups water
- 1 medium sweet onion, diced
- 1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 red Italian sweet pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced or crushed
- pinch of coarse sea salt
- 1 can diced, no salt added tomatoes
- 1 tsp cumin
- 2 cups tap water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced
- 1 cup quick cooking brown rice
Bring the dry black beans and 4 cups water to a boil, cover and simmer for 1 hour. Drain and rinse with cold water.
Coat a medium pot with non-stick olive oil cooking spray and heat over medium heat. Add the onion, poblano and Italian peppers, garlic and salt and cook until the onion is translucent. Add the beans, can of tomatoes and cumin and mix well. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and let cook for about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Meanwhile, put the 2 cups of water, olive oil and chipotle peppers into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the water is absorbed.
Put 1/2 cup of the cooked rice into a bowl, add about 3/4 cup of the bean mixture over the rice. Optional: serve topped with 2 tbsp light sour cream and a sprinkling of freshly chopped cilantro.
Serving Size: Makes 4 servings
Nutritional Information: Calories 305, Total Fat 5.1g, Cholesterol 0.0mg, Sodium 123.3mg, Total Carbs 68.7g, Dietary Fiber 19.4g, Protein 14.5g