I could probably eat some form of beans and rice every single day. And that’s not really an exaggeration. In 1998, for four months, I actually only ate lentils and rice (dal bhat) while I lived in Nepal, so I know I am capable of enjoying an unchanging diet. I really looked forward to each plate mounded with rice, vegetables and occasionally some chicken, alongside the dish of soupy dal to pour over the rice dish to the perfect consistency that allowed me to scoop up each bite easily with my hands (an acquired skill, trust me!). And here, halfway around the world, I often find it hard to cook meals that do not include beans and rice…and avocadoes, tomatoes, and other local fresh veggies!
As I mentioned in an earlier post, red beans are common here in El Salvador, which is in distinct contrast to neighboring Guatemala, where black beans reign. Honduras is divided, with black beans being more common inland and red beans typical along the coast, where the menu tends to have a more Caribbean flare. Further south, in Nicaragua, red beans are again more common, and red beans and rice (Gallo pinto) is the national dish served alongside any other main dish you might order. (This same dish is called casamiento in El Salvador, which refers to the “marriage” of the beans and the rice. Gallo pinto literally means “spotted rooster” which refers to the red and white color of the dish.) Beans are rice have indeed had a long marriage to each other, because together, they create complete proteins, and have lots of minerals, fiber, and B vitamins. So while filling up your stomach, they’re also really good for your whole body.
However, I eat beans and rice because I simply love them. And my favorite dish to make is simple burritos. Vegetarian burritos in fact. I start with black beans, going against the grain, errr…legume for El Salvador. Luckily, black beans can still be found, typically imported from either Honduras or Guatemala, just a few hours away. I always buy dried beans, then toss them in my pressure cooker. I make large batches and freeze the extra for later. Why dried beans? There are lots of reasons, take your pick. The ONLY downside is that you can’t just open up a can and dump them straight into your dish. But if you compare that very tiny downside to all the upsides, then you’ll be switching to dried beans. First, dried beans are far more economical, pound-per-pound, you’ll be saving quite a bit of money. You can also buy a wider variety of dried beans than canned beans, which tend to be limited to less than ten varieties, when in fact there are dozens of varieties of beans that can be purchased dried. By preparing your own beans, you will consume less sodium, which is good for your heart and health, and you’ll be consuming no preservatives, unless you add your own preservatives, which would be strange. You will also be helping out the environment by not using up tons of little metal cans, which are also lined with plastic. And speaking of that plastic, it contains bisphenol-A, a xenoestrogen which studies have linked to adverse reproductive effects in lab animals. So cutting that out of your life is a good thing. Lastly, when you cook your own beans, you have total control over how firm or soft you make your beans, and what kinds of flavors to add.
After the beans have soaked (I use the boil for two minutes then soak for two hours method), I drain the water and then add a few garlic cloves, halved, along with some cumin to the pot along with the new water. While the beans are doing their thing in the pressure cooker, I slice an eggplant into 1/4-inch circles. I spray a baking sheet with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt. I place the eggplant slices onto the sheet in a single later, and bake at 350 for about a half hour. The beans are usually done by this point, so I remove them from the heat and let the pressure dissipate. While the eggplant is baking, I finely dice a small carrot, onion, jalapeno pepper, red and green peppers, garlic and some tomatoes. The carrots and peppers come from Los Planes Organic Cooperative, the tomatoes are from my garden, and the garlic and onion are of unknown origin. Once the eggplant is lightly browned, I remove it from the oven and dice that too. Then I saute on a cast iron skillet in a bit of olive oil. I add the beans and season with dried oregano, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. I also squeeze on juice from half a lime (from the backyard!)
I let this mixture cook, tasting occasionally and adjusting the seasoning as needed. I turn the heat down and prepare the guacamole. For the guacamole, I dice garlic and hot peppers and marinate them in the juice of half a lime with some salt. Then I add the avocados and mash together. If I have fresh cilantro, I’ll add that along with some freshly picked tomatoes. If I don’t have fresh cilantro, I don’t bother using dried. Typically I’ll taste test the guacamole several times before serving just to make sure it’s right 🙂 I warm the tortillas slightly, sprinkle on some pepper jack cheese, scoop on some of the filling, some shredded organic romaine lettuce (or my homegrown greens if I have them), and top with guacamole. Typically I fill the tortilla to bursting and the insides are oozing out as I take my bites, but I just scoop those casualties up with tortilla chips afterward. The best part about this dish is that it’s just as good reheated for lunch the next day, which is why I always make a huge batch! For a more specific recipe, click here to jump to the Local Victuals page!