24 August 2012

Cheap eats: Rice and beans

Why doesn't anybody eat rice and beans any more? They are so filling. They are so nutritious, lacking really only Vitamin C (links: rice, beans). They have such an unobjectionable taste. They are so cheap.

I could wax poetic on rice and beans.

Say this with former N.J. governor Tom Kean's accent:
"Rice and beans. Perfect together."

You can get a 1-lb. bag of black beans for $1.39, often less. You can get a slow cooker to cook them in for under $25.00 (or used for even less). You can get a 5-lb. bag of brown rice for $6.59, often less.

When you are short on money, your food budget is one place where it's easy to economize. Stop eating out. Stop buying coffee from people who make it for you. Stop buying expensive food: out-of-season produce, prime cuts of meat, processed convenience foods, junk foods and sodas, and so on. Learn how to put up with a diet less varied than you would perhaps prefer. And embrace rice and beans, possibly starting with the recipe we use in the Rowhouse Livin' household:

Place 1 cup dried black beans into the slow cooker crock. To clean them, cover with water and agitate with fingers or a utensil; drain; repeat. Cover with water to a depth of 2 inches and let stand in the crock overnight. Drain, rinse, and return to the crock.

Cover with water to a depth of 1 inch and turn the slow cooker to HIGH. After 1 hour, turn to LOW. (Or: start cooking the beans on LOW in the morning and let sit all day while you are away at work.) After 5 hours (or: after you return home), add half a small onion, diced; one tomato, chopped; and salt and pepper to taste. Add any of the following to taste: cumin, chili powder, bay leaf, epazote, curry powder, garlic powder. Stir thoroughly. Turn the heat back to HIGH and cook for another hour.

While the beans are finishing, prepare 1 cup of rice per package instructions or another method. When the rice is done, turn off the slow cooker and serve. We like to grate hard Cheddar cheese on top, and I like to add hot sauce.

Note how this is a meal that we can have on the table within an hour of returning home from school and work. In that hour, my daughter can finish up some homework, and I can work on bread or move laundry along. And really importantly, it costs under $1.00 per plate, including water, electricity, and cooking gas. During the school year, the Rowhouse Livin' household sees rice and beans on the table almost weekly.

If you are concerned about indigestion due to the beans, you can try Beano. But rest assured that most people find that, the more they eat beans, the more they find them digestible. As for the brown rice, yes, it has a lot of fiber. If you are concerned about the laxative effect of eating so much brown rice, then you can start by using white rice, then trying a 50-50 mix, and then gradually transitioning to 100% brown rice. (Note that white rice takes less time to cook than brown rice.)

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