Brazilian Rice and Beans, a daily staple on dinner tables throughout the country, is cooked up by Brazilian guest blogger Patricia. Recipe below.
As comedian Steven Wright says, “It’s a small world, but I wouldn’t want to paint it.” And the Internet keeps making it smaller every day. It’s shrunk my world in many ways—and made it a more interesting place at the same time. For example, I’m in touch more now than I have been in ages with a high school friend, Helmut, even though he moved back to Germany several years ago. I know a blues-playing barrister in Bakewell, England. Through Marion’s work for a Francophile website, we’ve made numerous friends [including our Brooklyn buddy Ronnie and San Francisco-based mystery writer Cara Black] and have stayed in the fabulous Paris apartment of the site’s founder.
And now I’ve met Brazilian food blogger Patricia Scarpin. Well, met her online anyway—the Internet has also redefined meeting and knowing people. Patricia produces two versions of her blog Technicolor Kitchen—one in English and one in Portuguese.
She responded to my last week’s post on chili and mentioned a popular basic Brazilian rice and beans dish. After a couple of email exchanges, it sounded like a great dish to post here—and a chance to take Blue Kitchen global. Patricia not only supplied the recipe, she sent me photos too! So I’ll turn the kitchen over to Patricia now, then come back at the end and tell you what little modifications I made when I tried it in the test kitchen—well, in the kitchen.
Brazilian Rice and Beans
Serves 2 [can be doubled]
This is my rice and beans recipe—it’s kind of basic, and most people here make it this way. There might be slight changes from one cook to another, like seasoning, but that’s a matter of personal taste, and you can make your adjustments too. We use long-grain rice.
1 cup dried Pinto beans
1 cup uncooked rice
1 medium onion [or two small], chopped and divided
1 large clove garlic, chopped
chopped bacon, about 1/2 cup
1 small red chile pepper, seeded and chopped [optional]
1 bay leaf [optional]
1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
cumin powder, a pinch
salt and freshly ground black pepper
I start by soaking the dried beans in water. To speed up the process, I boil some water and place the beans in a bowl and cover them with the hot water. I leave them there for 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, I boil some water in the pressure cooker. When the water is boiling, I drain the beans and place them in the pressure cooker, close it and cook the beans for 35-40 minutes, depending on the amount—yesterday I cooked about 1 cup of beans. They have to be soft but not too much, or they’ll be destroyed on the next step.
In the meantime, start making the rice: wash the grains in advance and leave them in a sieve for a while, so all the excess of water goes away. The drier they get, the better: The grains will be more separated from each other after they’re cooked.
While the beans cook, I prepare the part that’s gonna boost the flavor: chopped onions, chopped garlic and chopped bacon. I didn’t have any bacon yesterday, so I used a sort of sausage we have here, called calabresa. This is a pre-cooked type of sausage, made of pork. You can use a little red chile pepper too, but my husband is afraid of heat.
Cook half the chopped onion, garlic and bacon [and chile pepper, if you’re using it] in a little olive oil. The delicious smell will take over your kitchen, that’s for sure!
Add the cooked beans and some of the water that turned into broth to the onion mixture. Season it with salt, cracked black pepper, bay leaf [I don’t use it, but it’s very popular here to season beans]. I add 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste to make it a little redder, but you can even use ketchup. A pinch of cumin powder goes well too.
Cover the pan and cook over low heat, stirring every now and then. Let it simmer, because then you’ll have a very thick and dense broth.
While the beans mixture simmers, cook the rice. Start a kettle of water to boil. Heat a little olive oil over medium-high heat and cook the remaining chopped onion until it starts getting golden. Add the rice and cook for 1-2 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the grains from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Season it with salt—any other seasoning would cause the rice to turn another color, and we like our rice very white here.
Add boiling water until it covers the rice by 1/4-inch or so. Leave it to cook down. When the water starts to disappear into the rice, cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Check it from time to time to make sure the bottom doesn’t burn. When I started making rice—I was 11—I tasted some grains from the top to check if they were already cooked. You can do that if you wish.
When you notice all the water is gone—you’ll notice there’s no longer the “noise” of water boiling on the bottom of the pan—the rice is done [about 15 minutes—see the Kitchen Notes below]. I know it sounds a little subjective, but after you’ve made it once you’ll get the hang of it.
Check the beans: After 15 minutes or so [about when the rice is ready], the broth will be creamy and the flavors will be more evident.
This is an almost daily meal for Brazilians: Rice and beans, some sort of meat and salad or vegetables. I made a steak and some onions, because my husband wasn’t in the mood for salad. The steak was striploin. I just sprinkled it with mashed garlic and salt and grilled it with butter. When it was almost done, I added some onion, thinly sliced. I removed the steak and let the onion get a little more golden. Then I placed the steak on the plate and placed the onion on top.
Thanks, Patricia! First, let me start by saying: This. Dish. Is. Wonderful. Robust and hearty and flavorful, to be sure, but with some nice complexity too. I will definitely make this again. It’s fascinating how so many cultures have taken these two humble ingredients and produced similarly satisfying but infinitely and subtly varied dishes. While the Brazilian version has its own distinct taste, it kept reminding me of some of the better red beans and rice I’ve had in New Orleans.
Regarding my tweaks to her fabulous recipe, I really hate it when people make gratuitous arbitrary changes to a recipe. You see it all the time in reviews of recipes on epicurious.com: “I totally loved this recipe! I don’t eat red meat, so I substituted a can of tuna for the strip steak, and instead of garlic, I added a little minced ginger…” My changes were much less drastic.
Some of my changes were practical. I don’t have a pressure cooker, so I cooked the beans in a covered pot, adjusting the cooking time accordingly. I soaked the beans in cold water overnight instead of using Patricia’s quick method with hot water because I had the time to do so.
Other changes were by choice, but within the realm of the variations Patricia herself outlined:
I did use a bay leaf, and I added it to the beans at the outset of cooking for more flavor—I like bay leaf. An added bonus is that it made the kitchen wonderfully fragrant from the outset.
I upped the cumin from a pinch to 1/8 teaspoon, for a little more spiciness and flavor. I didn’t go nuts, though—I still wanted to be close to the original in flavor and didn’t want this to turn into chili.
I added half a chile pepper [a jalapeno, since that’s what I had, seeded and chopped] because unlike her husband, I do like heat. Next time I may use the whole pepper. As it was, though, the dish had a satisfying kick to it.
And I used bacon, as she recommends. It added a nice smoky touch.
Now a couple of practical tips: In transferring the beans to the onion/bacon mixture, I ladled a few ladles of beans and broth into the skillet. Then I used a slotted spoon to transfer the rest of the beans and ladled a little more broth into the pan until it seemed a good mixture. Reserve the rest of the broth—I found I needed to add a little more later in the cooking process.
Regarding Patricia’s tip for listening to the rice sound change to indicate the water has been cooked away, I unfortunately was searing a couple of pork chops for the meat portion of the meal, and the insistent sizzle of that pan drowned out any sound from the rice. Again, 15 minutes worked out to be just right.
Pinto beans. A random thought: Is anyone besides me disappointed that these speckled beauties lose their distinctive markings when they cook? Just think how cool this dish could look if the beans kept their, well, pinto look.
And a final note. In doing exhaustive research for this post—in other words, googling “rice and beans”—I found a Brazilian restaurant on 9th Avenue in Manhattan Called Rice & Beans. Their website makes it look fun, tasty and affordable, all three good things in my book.