Sunday, October 28, 2012

Moors and Christians

Ask someone who lives or has traveled in Belize to name one of the most common dishes, and it's likely that beans and rice will be one of the top answers. 

Interestingly, before I even knew where Belize was on a map, I was making a similar dish called Moors and Christians. It's really just a variation on a theme, as the recipe is the Spanish-style equivalent of what we refer to as beans and rice here.

One of the many things I love about this dish is its versatility. Have leftover ground meat, some sausage hanging out in the freezer, some bits of chicken looking for a home? Any of these can be added. Or, you can omit the protein and have a yummy vegetarian dish. It's also fun to play around with the rice component. I've used some of the bean liquid to make the rice, like the version we'll walk through here, but have also added harissa sauce, and made just plain old white rice. Whatever floats your boat.

So let's get started, shall we? I'll start with the beans. I've used both canned and dry beans when making this dish and found we really prefer the taste and texture of the dried ones (once they are cooked obviously; dried beans on their own aren't very appetizing). Granted, it takes a bit more time and planning working with the dried ones, but nothing that takes too many brain cells. The other advantage to working with dried beans is that they contain way, way less sodium compared to their canned cousins. And with dried beans so readily available here in Belize, they're easy to find.

I soaked some black beans overnight (about 1 1/2 cups), drained the liquid in the morning, then put them in a large pot, covered them again with water, and let them simmer away for about two hours. You want them to be tender, so taste more than just one or two. Once they were finished cooking, I removed the pot from the heat and added just a bit of salt and let that soak into the beans for about 20 minutes. When I drained the beans, I reserved some of the cooking liquid. You'll see why in a bit.

Drained, cooked black beans

I had some ground beef and pork leftover from a previous meal, so decided I would add that to the mix. In a large saute pan, I browned the meat. When done, I removed it from the pan and set it aside.

As I mentioned earlier, you can use your imagination and leftovers. Try substituting the beef and/or pork with chicken, chorizo, or italian sausage (mild, spicy, or both). The world is your oyster, so to speak.

With the meat now out of the pan, I added a bit of olive oil, chopped onions, and a pinch of crushed red pepper. It also tastes great if you add some chopped red bell peppers while sauteing the onions. I just didn't have any on hand on this particular day.

When the onions were soft, I tossed in two cloves of minced garlic and let that cook with the onions for about 30 seconds. Heaven!

At this point, it's time to add the rest of the cast of characters. Into the pan went the drained black beans, about a cup of the reserved cooking liquid, one can of diced tomatoes and their juice (feel free to use whole plum tomatoes instead), the browned beef/pork, about a 1/2 tsp. of thyme, some ground cumin, a pinch of oregano, plus salt and pepper.

Bring the whole shootin' match up to a boil, then let it simmer for about 10 to 20 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated. If you have some parsley or cilantro, which I didn't, now would be a good time to mince it up and throw it in.

While the bean mixture is doing its thing, I turned my attention to the rice. On this particular day, I decided to make the rice with some of the bean cooking liquid. Why? 'Cause I could. The ratio I used was 1/2 cup of bean liquid, along with 1/2 cup of water to 1/2 cup of rice.

When the rice was done, I fluffed it up with a fork and spooned it into the bottom of our bowls. On top of that, I added a healthy ladle of the bean mixture, and voila:

It's what's for dinner!

Again, the versatility of this dish is limited only to your imagination. Be creative. Play with your food. Experiment with the seasonings. I should also note that this is a great make-ahead dish and actually tastes even better if made the day before serving. Nothing like giving all those yummy flavors a chance to marry overnight.

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