I made a batch of this beans & rice dish for a family trip up to Vermont. We had it on a Sunday afternoon before heading out to the Long Trail Brewery, for the 4th day in a row.
This recipe is adapted from Cook’s Illustrated. The point is to let the rendered fat and aromatics (like garlic and onion and pepper) contribute a lot of the flavor up front. I like this recipe because the amount of meat used is fairly minimal for a dish that serves 6-8 people. Very similar to Mark Bittman’s thoughts on meat, the bacon or salt pork is there to mostly add flavor; it really isn’t the focus of dish. To make it even healthier, next time I’ll use brown rice — if you do this, though, you’ll need to up the liquid added back with the bean-water and increase the cooking time.
The first time I made this, as-is, I found the recipe dirtied a lot of pots and pans, so I stream-lined some of the prep work. I’d also recommend using bacon instead of salt pork (their substitution suggestion). Not only is salt pork harder to find, but the USDA food database lists 5.0 ounces of salt pork as packing in more than 1000 calories and over 40 grams of saturated fat (although the database doesn’t specify lean salt pork). Six slices of bacon, on the other hand, has just a fraction of the calories and saturated fat.
1 cup dried black beans (rinsed and soaked for 8+ hours)
2 cups chicken broth (low-sodium or homemade) + 2 cups water
1 green bell pepper
1 red bell pepper
1 head garlic (remove 5 cloves first, then slice the garlic bulb in half, keeping the paper attached)
2 Bay leaves
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
6 pieces bacon, uncooked and diced
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 Tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
1. In a large oven-safe pot or Dutch oven, bring beans, chicken broth, water, 1/2 of the green pepper (sliced down the middle, don’t slice or chop further), 1/2 onion (also kept intact, not diced), the sliced halves of the garlic bulb, bay leaves, and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 30-40 minutes, until the beans are soft. Remove and discard the pepper, onion, garlic, and bay leaves. Drain the beans in a colander set over a bowl and reserve the liquid.
2. In the same pot, heat 1 Tablespoon of oil and add the bacon. Cook over medium-low heat to render the fat, about 10-12 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, finely dice remaining 1/2 green bell pepper, 1 whole red bell pepper, and onion. Mince the 5 reserved cloves of garlic and set aside.
4. When bacon has cooked, increase the heat to medium and add 1 Tablespoon oil and the onions & peppers. Stir in the oregano and cumin and mix to combine. Continue to cook for about 15 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and start to color. Add garlic and stir for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir to coat. Finally, add the beans, their reserved cooking liquid (about 2 1/2 cups — add extra water to make up the difference if you don’t have enough), vinegar, and 1 teaspoon salt. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring the pot to a simmer.
5. Meanwhile, position an oven rack in the middle with enough room above it to fit the pot with its lid. Preheat the oven to 350-degrees. When the pot reaches a simmer, cover with the lid and transfer to the pre-heated oven. Bake until the liquid is absorbed and the rice cooked through, 30 minutes. Remove from oven and fluff the rice with a fork. Rest, uncovered, for 5 minutes.