“September is a summer month!” the speaker declared. Twice in the same day I overheard this defiance – at the grocery store and then again at the post office – Northwest people convincing themselves that this summer isn’t over. Warm days and harvest moon nights still to come.
Maybe as a tiny harbinger, just a bare hint of the beginning-to-change season, and part of the ongoing bean project, I’ve been wanting to explore things to make with black beans, like meals I order in restaurants happily – black bean burgers or Café Flora’s “Oaxaca Tacos.”
Flipping through Mark Bittman’s book I came upon his recipe for “Moors and Christians, Black Beans and Rice, Spanish Style,” and thought how we hadn’t had that in a long time. (Bittman explains that the “Muslim Moors ruled devoutly Christian Spain for seven centuries; what else should the world’s best-known bicolor dish be called?” But I’m not convinced that title is acceptable anymore – it’s historic and dated in a complicated way. Perhaps optimistically, I like to think of it as shorthand for a kind of getting along, neighboring mosques and cathedrals, that seems to have happened in Spain, until it didn’t.)
When home one summer our older son introduced “Moors and Christians” into the regular dinner rotation – and taught me how to make it. We used canned beans in those days, but the dish became a favorite. A good dinner the first night, and the leftovers were useful during the summers, when kids were working construction and always hungry. Black beans and rice in a tortilla makes a portable lunch for a working guy – or one home to quickly “grab something.”
Bittman celebrates rice and beans as “one of the most important of all culinary marriages.” “They are cheap, they provide good protein and plenty of carbohydrates, and they don’t take a lot of work to make them delicious.”
Black beans and rice couldn’t be easier and using leftover “real beans” is a treat, but not necessary. Put rice on to cook (Bittman suggests a pilaf, which means initially cooking the rice in oil before adding water, but plain brown rice works). Sauté onions and a green or red pepper if you want, and garlic. Add a cup or so of chopped tomatoes (canned tomatoes in winter, but now it’s fun to use local tomatoes).
Add the beans (and some bean liquid if they’re home-cooked beans), and simmer till the liquid is nearly gone. Mound the rice in a shallow serving bowl and surround with the bean mixture.
Maybe black beans and rice let the seasons co-exist – the other night we made them with fresh tomatoes and served with the last of the corn on the cob. In their next iteration the rice and black beans will be mixed up – as leftovers – companionably.