A few weeks ago my friend Lisa hosted an Oscar party, and everyone pitched in. From homemade guacamole and salsa to tortillas and sangria we all pulled together a Mexican feast I volunteered to bring slow cooker mole beef and fajita fixins’. Come Oscar Sunday, I’d hardly put the lid on the slow cooker before remembering that our friend Faith is vegetarian. Using a couple leftover chiles en adobo, I quickly threw together a rice and bean dish that would serve as a main course for Faith and bonus side dish for everyone else.
The girls loved the mole beef, but I should have predicted that they would gravitate towards the bowl of jazzed up rice and beans not only because they were really good, but also because (at least in my community of family and friends) people are just eating less meat these days. And more than for health reasons or the environmental impact, people are telling me they simply feel better when they eat less meat.
Not no meat, just less.
I’m no vegetarian. I’m still thinking about the Chicken Tagine with Apricots and Almonds Mom made several weeks ago, and my self-control around the Japanese chicken wings at my friend’s birthday dinner was woefully (and embarrassingly) non-existent. Though I rarely cook meat at home, I find that whenever I’m cooking for a crowd, having friends over, or planning celebration meals with Mom and Sharon, I still get stuck on the idea of vegetarian not being ‘enough’ or ‘festive’ – so I cave and make what I think other people will want.
The night of the Oscar party I went home with a lot of extra mole beef, a small portion of rice and beans, and two valuable realizations. The first was that it’s okay to make vegetarian main courses for a crowd (in fact these days, people probably prefer it!) and the second realization was that rice and beans is a great weeknight dinner. I always have brown rice, a can of black beans, a quart of stock and the other flavorings on hand. You can even stir in frozen corn or peas if you want more. But once you top it with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt, chopped red onion and cilantro, this is one of the most satisfying dinners in my ever-expanding vegetarian artillery.
Chile Beans and Brown Rice
Four cups of stock may seem like too much, but it’s not. I simmer mine for the full hour and let it cool because I like it to set up and thicken. But if you’d prefer it with a bit more liquid, simmer for just 45 minutes.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-large onion, cut into small dice
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 large chile from a small can of chiles en adobo, minced (you can use one if you don’t like much heat)
1/2 cup prepared salsa
1 tablespoon chili powder
3/4 cup uncooked brown rice
1 can (15 to 16 ounces) black beans, drained
1 quart vegetable or chicken stock
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
Salt and ground black pepper
Suggested garnishes: avocado slices, sour cream or Greek yogurt, chopped red onion, cilantro.
Heat oil in a large saucepan or small Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onions; saute until almost soft, about 4 minutes. Add garlic, and chile; cook until fragrant and soft, a couple of minutes longer. Add salsa and chili powder; cook to intensify flavors, about 3 minutes longer. Stir in rice, beans and stock; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until rice is cooked and stock has absorbed but dish is still moist, 45 minutes to one hour. Let stand 10 to 15 minutes. Serve with any or all of the suggested garnishes.