Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dining For a Dollar (Part 3)

I've been thinking about ways to use cheap ($1 or less) food items to create healthy meals. If I were forced to live on such inexpensive items (for financial reasons, or because I couldn't get to stores with healthier options), I think I'd mostly just prepare things like cereal, sandwiches, and pasta with canned/jarred sauce and/or veggies, but there could be a few opportunities for real, from-scratch cooking.

Here's an actual recipe based on items I've purchased for $1 or less. Depending on the seasonings you add and the garnishes you use, this could potentially be vegan, low in fat, and low in sodium. (Jarred salsa is usually quite salty, but a cup or so in a whole potful of beans isn't going to raise the sodium level by too much.)

Black Beans and Rice
  • 1-lb. bag black beans (dry, uncooked)†
  • 1 cup (or more) salsa, jarred†
  • 1-1/2 cups rice (dry, uncooked)††
  • seasonings (salt, pepper, chili powder, cumin, etc.) to taste†
  • any desired garnishes: sour cream, shredded cheese, diced onion, chopped cilantro, crumbled corn chips, etc.
  1. Prepare black beans according to package directions (e.g., sort, rinse, cover with water, soak overnight, drain, rinse, cover with fresh hot water, and simmer gently until tender, about 1-1/2 hours). (I don't add salt to beans as they cook; I've read this makes the beans tough.) Let the beans cool a while so they'll be easier to handle.
  2. Drain the beans, reserving a few cups of the cooking liquid.
  3. (Optional) To slightly thicken the dish, puree about 1 cup of the cooked beans with a little of the cooking liquid. (I use a "stick" type blender for this.)
  4. Combine the beans (whole and pureed) with the salsa. Add enough of the reserved bean cooking liquid to achieve the consistency you like. Taste, and adjust seasonings. Depending on the brand and heat level of the salsa you used, spices like cayenne pepper and cumin may work well. (You could stop at this point and refrigerate the beans for a day or two, then reheat when needed.)
  5. Cook 1-1/2 cups rice according to package directions. As the rice is cooking, reheat the bean mixture.
  6. Spoon hot cooked rice into a bowl, top with the bean mixture, and garnish as desired.
Serves 6.

† Purchased from my local dollar store.

†† My local dollar stores carry only white rice. I prefer brown rice, which I've never found at a dollar store, but 1-lb. packages of store-brand brown rice are sometimes available on sale for a dollar at my regular grocery store. Keep uncooked brown rice in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Brown rice takes longer to cook than white rice, but Alton Brown's recipe for Baked Brown Rice is super-easy and yields consistently great results. If you're a vegan, just substitute vegetable oil for the butter that the recipe calls for.

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