February 29, 2012

Hoppin' Avatar? ...and other rice and bean confusion.

I could never EVER have imagined that there were so many variations to rice and beans. (Rice and peas? Beans and rice? Peas and Rice? Arroz con frijoles?) Almost every culture has a way of preparing this classic combination, and that's probably because it maximizes your economic AND nutritional buck. Rice and beans are two staples in almost every household pantry. They're relatively inexpensive and easy to prepare.

In Jamaica, a traditional 'Sunday Dinner' is a roasted chicken with rice and peas. Actually, it isn't usually even peas, but kidney beans (called red peas in Jamaica). Rice and peas in Jamaica is almost always made with kidney beans, except during the Christmas season when pigeon peas (called gungo peas) are more common.

Growing up I hated kidney beans. My dad would take my plate and pick all the kidney beans out the rice for me so that I could eat my dinner. After much coercion, my parents finally got me to try rice and peas made with pigeon peas... and, much to my surprise, I loved it. So from then on my mom would stock up on pigeon peas while they were in season and freeze bags of them so she could make rice and peas with them year round.

So from pigeon peas I branched out to trying and enjoying several other kinds of peas and beans. Black beans and lima beans are a few of my favourites that I keep on hand. I don't know if it's because I grew up pairing the two in my head, but whenever I cook with beans I always serve them with rice. They just marry perfectly I think.

Now the dish Rice and Peas in Jamaica is not just rice... mixed with peas. In my research, not one of the rice and bean dishes in any culture was as simple as just the two ingredients. The flavours came from herbs and spices and broths and cooking liquids that the rice and/or the beans were simmered in. Jamaican rice and peas is traditionally prepared by cooking the peas first and then adding the rice along with lots of herbs and spices such as pimento seeds, garlic, thyme, scallions and a type of chili pepper common in the Caribbean called 'Scotch Bonnet'. The entire mixture is simmered in coconut milk until the rice is cooked through.

My mom's rice and peas made with pigeon or 'gungo' peas. So good my dad's making his second plate.
All that being said, I have never attempted to make rice and peas. I've also never roasted a whole chicken like my mom does every Sunday. This week makes a year since I moved out of my parents' house but I still can't bring myself to make our family Sunday Dinner for one, and then sit and eat it alone.

I do, however, cook with rice and beans quite often. Like I said, I consider them to be pantry staples... and we all know how I love recipes where all the ingredients are right on hand. I mostly cook with lima beans or black beans. Curried lima beans and rice is one of my easy, go-to weeknight recipes. Another is Mexican inspired black beans and rice with a corn salsa on the side.

The last time I went grocery shopping and was stocking up on canned beans, I noticed black-eyed peas and wondered how I had never tried them before. Especially since I love the song "My Humps" so much. Get it? No? Okay....

Today I decided to make rice and beans for lunch and figured I'd go with one of my tried-and-true (and a little tired) recipes.. until I saw the can of black-eyed peas on the shelf. So I figured I'd cook them with some spices and serve it over  rice. The rice was cooking on the stove and I was in the process of sauteing onions and peppers when I noticed a recipe on the back of the can of beans.

Hoppin' John Over Rice

huh?

Never before had I head of Hoppin' John. A quick scan of the recipe revealed that it was quite similar to the dish I was in the process of making. Onions and peppers and beans and spices on top of rice. The major difference was that the recipe called for ham which I do not have since I'm going meatless until Easter. As I do when I come across I dish I've never heard of, I made a mental note to look it up and find out it's origin. It's a southern (US) dish for those of you in the dark like myself. From there I read about several similar dishes from other cultures; there are dozens of variations in each region. I thought it would be fun to travel around the world through rice and bean dishes, so I will start with my vegetarian take on Hoppin' John today, and post about others in the coming weeks.

I steamed a cup of Jasmine rice (it's my favourite and therefore what I stock in the pantry) and set aside. I chopped a small onion and a green bell pepper and sauteed in a teaspoon of vegetable oil. I then added half a 16oz can of black-eyed peas (undrained), a teaspoon of soy sauce, a teaspoon of hot pepper sauce and a teaspoon of dried parsley. I also smashed 2 cloves of garlic and added into the pan. I simmered the mixture for 10 minutes and then pulled the garlic cloves out before serving the bean mixture over the rice.

I really enjoyed the firm texture of the black-eyed peas against the soft jasmine rice. The crunch of the vegetables also added to the element. I didn't add salt because of the soy sauce which I thought balanced well with the fragrant rice.