Mexican rice is one of my most requested recipes. Why? I haven’t the slightest idea. It’s as straightforward as it gets…I mean, it’s rice, people have been eating it for 10,000 years. And whenever it comes into conversation, people are weirdly surprised I make Mexican rice from scratch. “What, you can make that???” I’m not sure whether or not I should be offended that they’re taken aback learning that I know how to make rice with a few added ingredients? What’s so perplexing about it?
This post is the first in a series of three legumes & grains dishes, all riffs on the traditional beans & rice, the food of the frugal gods. Variations of this dish are staples in cultures all over the world. It is cheap (even at an expensive grocery store and using only organic ingredients, this was ~$1 for a huge serving) and healthy. The pinto beans contain tons of nutrients people are usually deficient in, like 20% your daily value of each magnesium, potassium and iron. The fiber in the beans helps control blood sugar levels and the thiamine helps your memory (a serving provides you with 30% your daily value of this important B-vitamin). In addition to its already attractive nutrient portfolio, a serving also contains 20g of protein! If you still believe in the myth of ‘complete proteins’, have no fear as the combination of beans and rice perfectly compliment each other, providing all the essential amino acids. It’s no wonder why this cheap, readily available food is so loved.
I’ve been eating less animal products lately, mostly dairy as I’ve never eaten much meat, to reduce my impact on the environment. It uses 12 times as much land (30% of the Earth’s landmass is used to raise animals for food), 13 times as many fossil fuels and 15 times more water to produce a pound of meat protein vs vegetable protein. 70% of the grain grown in the United States is used to feed farm animals when world hunger rates are at an all time high (even in the US, one of the wealthiest countries in the world). Eating meat often is one of the most irresponsible things you can do, so I’ve finally been more diligent about my own consumption to make up for other people’s bad habits.
I’ve been making a lot of this dish lately, like 8-cups-of-rice-at-a-time a lot. Having a week’s worth in the fridge is madly convenient as it makes a great base for a myriad of meals and is just as enjoyable by itself. Despite having it almost every day for the past two weeks, I still look forward to it every time I eat it. It never bores my pallet and always leaves me perfectly satisfied.
The trick to always entertaining your pallet is to spice things well, never use store bought sauces full of preservatives and sugar, and use a wide variety of ingredients. Beans and rice are bland as all get out, but they are an amazing blank canvas to start painting your flavors onto (‘pinto’ translates to ‘paint’ in Spanish, an excuse for the incredibly cheesy reference I would usually have avoided). Use whole spices whenever possible and make sure your powders are fresh (I make only as much chili powder as I’ll use within ~3 months). Toasting the spices and really browning the onions/garlic is also very necessary.
I’m also happy to report, on top of it being incredibly cheap and good for your body, that this recipe is as waste free as it gets. Taking advantage of your grocery store’s bulk section/reusable bags cuts down on so much garbage. I found these bags in the trash, making me so happy it’s incomputable. Not only did I save these bags from a life sentence in a landfill, they’re helping me save countless other bags from the same fate.
Ugh, these refried beans. THESE REFRIED BEANS, UGH. They’re like edible velvet. Very smoky velvet (which also happens to be my drag queen name). Soaking is a pain, I know, but it’s a totally necessary step which I’ll tell you all about in part 2 of this legumes & grain saga. And it still beats using canned beans. Start soaking your beans before going to sleep tonight so you can be like me and have beans and rice for breakfast. Just what everybody wants…
Like I said, this is just as enjoyable eaten by itself as it is supporting a main dish. If you feel like going one step further, my favorite thing to do with it is to make a casserole of sorts, lining the bottom of a cast iron skillet with a layer of rice (which gets wonderfully crispy) and topping it with as big of a handful of spinach as I can hold, zucchini and then a nice dollop of the refried beans. Garnished with radishes and chives picked from the backyard while the casserole is in the oven.
Mexican Rice –
makes 6 cups
3 cups long grain white rice
2 cups chopped vegetables (I used 2 medium tomatoes, half a bell pepper, one onion, 5 cloves of garlic)
1/2 cup hot sauce of choice (I used one made from guajillo chiles, but here’s another favorite that works perfectly: Tomato Jam with Fermented Hot Sauce)
5 cups vegetable broth (I re-steep the leftover pulp from making hot sauce into my vegetable broth)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
salt, to taste
In a stockpot or dutch oven with a tight fitting lid, over medium-high heat, toast the spices until fragrant. Add the rice and toast 2 minutes, stirring often to make sure every grain gets nice to toasty. Add the oil, stirring well to combine. Then add all the chopped vegetables. Cook until browned, stirring often, ~4 minutes. Add the vegetable broth and hot sauce and bring to a boil. Once boiling, put the lid on and turn the burner down to as low as it goes. Let simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat but leave the lid on, keeping in all the steam, and let rest 5 minutes. Fluff up with a fork and serve.
Chipotle Refried Beans
1 pound dry pinto beans
1 cup reserved cooking liquid from the beans
4 tbsp olive oil
4 sprigs thyme
2-4 tbsp of chipotle powder, to taste
salt, to taste
Cover the beans with at least 4 inches of water and soak overnight. Drain the water, add the pinto beans to a pot and cover with water again. Add the half onion, roughly chopped and sprigs of thyme. Bring to a boil then simmer for ~1 hour or until very soft. Remove the sticks from the thyme, drain the beans making sure to reserve at least 1 cup of the cooking liquid. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the beans and cook for ~3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add contents of the skillet to a food processor. Blend until the consistency is to your liking, slowly adding the reserved cooking water. Optional – garnish with lots of cilantro
Mexican Rice and Chipotle Refried Beans Casserole
1 cup Mexican rice
1/2 cup chipotle refried beans
1 small zucchini, cut in half length wise then into 1/4 in thick slices
1 radish, diced
2 cups of spinach, chopped
Preheat oven to 450. Heat a small cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and the rice. Stir in the zucchini and spinach. Whip up the refried beans and put a dollop in the center. Bake for 5-7 minutes. Garnish with chives and radish.