A Home-Reared Chef!
Cook by Instinct, Recipe #15
If once in a while I can simplify my life a little by cheating and taking shortcuts from my obligations in the kitchen, by taking advantage of a few of our modern inventions and conveniences, such as boxed food (and I am still particular and leery of most), then why not? We live in fast moving days, and I don’t always have all day to spend in the kitchen.
Comfort food: spicy-hot beans and rice served for dinner in a combination of salt and sweet accompaniments … oh-yeah! Though I much prefer taking the long steps required towards making a great meal, like soaking my beans the night before, and frying fresh a batch of Salvadoreño rice, if I am pressed for time, this dish is a time-saver.
I am not one to serve my family a meal from a box, heavens no. I like creating from scratch, and take a lot of pride in doing so. And yet, my husband and I very much like “Zatarain’s New Orleans Style Red Beans (or Black Beans) and Rice.” We got brave and gave this semi-instant food a try, since we like Cajun food. It is our way of closing the distance to New Orleans. My kids, true snobs that we have made them, the first time thought them just okay, and not worth their time and waste of belly space. However, their opinion has changed. I set out to doctor-up the boxed beans and rice to see if I could get them to change their minds. And, once again, I have succeeded. Here I would love to share my altered recipe with you. Do not turn away from this. Give it a try, before you turn your nose up to the thought of preparing food from a box. This is a relatively quick and easy meal to prepare, and—WOW!—amazingly satisfying and so delicious.
Now I always keep a few boxes handy.
I began by adding fresh ingredients, with the intention of bringing fresh, bold flavors to the surface. My husband, an expert with his kitchen knives, cleaned and chopped my veggies to perfection: bell pepper, onion, garlic, poblano chile. The cooking food’s aroma permeated our house, and you can’t begin to imagine the joy I felt when my kids began to comment on how delicious it smelled, and then they devoured their dinner. Success!
In the past, I have served these boxed beans and rice with grilled Salmon and Rib Eye steaks. Yum! Tonight, however, I served this up with my (from scratch) Sweet Vanilla Cornbread and grilled Oktoberfest Bratwurst. The combination of salt and spicy-hot and sweet, well, the word wonderful doesn’t even begin to describe the burst of exciting flavors that erupted on the taste buds! I could have eaten twice-over, but didn’t. The guys actually had seconds and thirds, so I had NO leftovers for tomorrow.
Boxed Red Beans and Rice
Makes 6 to 8 hearty servings
Preparing and cooking time: About 1 hour and 30 minutes
1 small onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
Poblano chile, cleaned of seeds and chopped
4 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
Red Chili Flakes, as much or as little as you want
2 tablespoons rendered bacon fat (if on hand) or lard
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 boxes of ZATARAIN’S Red Beans and Rice
7 cups very hot water
1. In a four-quart saucepan, fry onion with the bacon fat, butter and olive oil until onion is translucent.
2. Add bell pepper, Poblano chile, garlic and red chili flakes (to taste) and sauté for about five minutes (longer if need be).
3. Add contents of box and fry for about 5–7 minutes (you want to brown the beans and rice just a little)—making sure to stir often so that the beans and rice do not burn. [The scrapings from the bottom will lend a delicious flavor and quality to your finished dish.]
4. Quickly but carefully add the hot water (mix well) and bring to a boil. Cover pan, lower heat to simmer and cook for twenty-five minutes.
5. Uncover, raise heat to a medium-low (you should keep a little simmer going) and cook for about another fifteen minutes, stirring often.
NOTE: With this last step, you are trying to reduce the water while making sure the beans are tender. I’ve added more water than they suggest because I found that the beans were never tender enough.