Sunday, July 29, 2012

Budget dinner at its finest: Black beans and rice

There are dishes that Brian and I ate while we were growing up that bring back some loving and cringe-worthy memories: SpaghettiOs with hotdogs sliced into it, boxed macaroni and cheese mixed with peas, and a little (delicious) gem that my mom made called tuna fish and rice casserole. These meals were filling, made an attempt at incorporating multiple food groups, and cost about 30 cents per serving.

As a kid I was happy, and loved, and snuggled, and read to, and watched TV when we had cable, and so what if I ate store-brand cereals and Hydrox and peanut-butter-and-butter sandwiches? Back then, everyone had patches sewn onto their jeans. Brian claims that pigeon traps on his friend’s roof provided him with a tasty lunch during one afternoon visit. I’m not sure if I believe this. But you get my drift. He still remembers how delicious his butter and sugar sandwiches tasted. The point is, we were all toting questionable lunches to school in the 80s.
For example, when my brother and I went to visit my dad on weekends, he would occasionally be tasked with packing me a lunch for Girl Scout hikes or other excursions. This was always a strange experience. I’m not sure if my dad just didn’t want me to go hungry or if he truly had no idea what a typical eight-year-old girl ate for lunch, but, on more than one occasion, he sent me off with a gigantic brown paper grocery bag filled with three bananas, three apples, four granola bars, two sandwiches, and multiple juice boxes. I was the Gulliver of the Girl Scout Troop, as I pulled an entire grocery bag’s worth of lunch out of the bright green, industrial-sized backpack that he’d sewn for me out of extra boat canvas (he’s an upholsterer). Now, I can appreciate that he was very much ahead of the crafty, DIY curve, one of the “original hipsters,” driving around in his green-and-white striped El Camino. But back then, well…I had a big giant school bag.
Thrift extended beyond the kitchen, of course. For my mother, punks were the source of many of her purchasing decisions. If we wanted Z. Cavariccis, my mom would say no, only punks wore those. Skidz? A special favorite of punks. The laser-beam background for school pictures? Punk-ness preserved forever. As with my father, I can now appreciate my mom’s reticence to succumbing to ugly, overpriced trends. Back then, well…I had maroon corduroys.
“You make it sound like we were dirt farmers,” my mom exclaimed when I told her about this post.
We were not farming dirt. Brian and I were just like every other kid in the 80s and early 90s: We played outside until the street lights came on, ate freeze-pops until our tongues turned green, squatted over a pile over grass clippings for hours making bird’s nests, and watched cartoons starting at 5 am until we left for school. But thanks to my mom, I know that popcorn tastes better, is far cheaper, and is leagues healthier if it’s popped from actual kernels in a pan on the stovetop instead of from a bag in the microwave.
I still have a fondness for getting a lot out of a little, and I think a good example of that is the black beans and rice dish that’s been a hit in my house for years. It’s a step above hotdogs in SpaghettiOs, but it’s still true budget dining at its heart. Here it is:

Adapted from The Teen's Vegetarian Cookbook
  • In a stockpot or other large saucepan, heat 5 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Saute one small, finely chopped onion for 1 minute, then add one clove of finely minced garlic and sauté for a minute more.
  • Use a food processor (or just your amazing knife skills) to finely chop a green pepper, two carrots, and a jalapeño pepper (with the seeds removed).
  • Add the additional veggies to the pot and sauté for 5 minutes.
  • Add 1 teaspoon of cumin, a 15-ounce can of black beans (liquid and all), and 2 cups of veggie broth to the pot. (Hint: You can used the canned or carton version, although I’ve been known to use veggie bullion to make my own broth in a pinch. Or go full DIY and make your own). Simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Add ¾ cup of instant brown rice and simmer, covered, until the rice is cooked. If it’s not thick enough for you, add more rice. Optional additions: 1 tablespoon of chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.
  • Serve alone or with sour cream and tortilla chips.


  1. I love this post!! It is so much fun hearing what "budget dinners" people grew up having- we can all remember them. I know one Rosie and I grew up on (not as good of course as your rice and beans) was a funny dish of plain ground beef with peas and corn, topped with potato sticks (potato stix?) straight from the can on top and covered in ketchup!

    1. OMG, that's awesome. What an excellent use of potato stix...I'll take any excuse to eat those!

  2. I think I will try this recipe, it sounds great! I love the part about the Girl Scouts, too! Hope all is well, Alex.
    Your old GS leader, Cheryl :)

    1. Thanks, Cheryl! Let me know what you think!