Rice and beans is a simple one-pot dish that’s a complete vegetarian protein (12 grams per cup) and a satisfying, quick meal.
Rice and beans is characterized by its simplicity. I think of this dish as unadorned compared to the robust flavors of Indian lentils and dal (which are always served with rice).
The flavors in this dish are familiar to the American palate. The dish originated in West Africa and spread to the Americas with the slave trade, so it adapted to local culture.
Versions of rice and beans are common in cuisines around the world, most notably Spain, the Caribbean (including Jamaica), Puerto Rico, Cuba, and much of Latin America, including Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, and more.
Common ingredients include onions, onion powder, garlic, garlic powder, oregano, bell peppers, red chilis, and fresh lemon or lime.
There is very little fat in rice and beans. In fact, you could easily make it with zero fat by skipping the initial sauté.
The United States has two famous rice and beans dishes: Hoppin’ John, made with black-eyed peas, and red beans and rice.
The red beans in the southern red beans and rice are in fact kidney beans. Kidney beans hold their shape nicely when cooked, and there is a meatiness and chewiness to kidney beans that is very satisfying.
Black beans and pinto beans are also commonly used in rice and bean dishes.
High in fiber
Lentils, beans, and peas are exceptionally high in fiber, a nutrient that many of us don’t get enough of.
Just one cup of rice and beans can contain as much as 10 grams of fiber, while meat gives you zero fiber.
Fiber is essential for good gut health because it feeds healthy gut bacteria.
Another huge benefit that comes from the vibrant red color of kidney beans is antioxidants.
You’ve heard about eating the rainbow? Well, the amazing thing about kidney beans is that the vibrant color doesn’t fade when cooked, and that’s more nutritious for you.
Swap out the rice for other grains
For rice and beans, I like to use medium or long-grained rice, because longer grained rice varieties are lower in starch, and therefore they don’t get mushy and stick together.
The number one swap I would recommend instead of rice would be farro. It will cook in around 20 minutes, which is similar to rice.
Farro is an ancient form of wheat that is more digestible than modern wheat. The varieties commonly available in the U.S. are milled so that it cooks faster. Check the package for cooking times to make sure.
You could also try quinoa or barley as a substitute for rice.
One of the best things about rice and beans is its flexibility.
In today’s recipe, I’ve included onions and celery, but you could easily add carrots, turnips, rutabaga, brussel sprouts, cabbage, kale, and so on to enhance the dish and make it even more nutritious.
When adding vegetables, just take into account how long the vegetables will take to cook and make sure that the vegetable is cooked by the time the rice and beans are cooked.
Another option to enhance and complete the meal would be to cook a separate vegetable—or two, or three—and serve it with the rice and beans.
I like the idea of carrots and Brussel sprouts the most.
Another idea for meat eaters is to add chicken, beef, or pork as a topping, or you could even mix it in while the rice cooks.
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Recipe for Easy Rice and Beans
Helpful Kitchen Tools:
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ⅔ cup onion, finely chopped
- ½ cup celery, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon seasoning salt, (see notes for clarification and substitution)
- pinch cayenne pepper, (optional)
- 1 cup medium or long-grain rice
- 1 15.5 ounce can kidney beans, (see notes for substitutions)
- ¼ teaspoon salt, (if needed)
- Finely chop garlic and onion. Heat vegetable oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan on medium heat. Add prepared garlic and onion, and stir well.
- Finely chop celery and add it to the cooking onions, along with oregano, seasoning salt, and optional cayenne pepper. Stir well, and cook gently until the carrots and celery start to soften. Use the lid for a few minutes to speed the cooking process.
- Rinse the rice once in cold water. Drain, and add to the saucepan. Open kidney beans and drain half the water. Transfer to a 2-cup measuring cup, and fill with extra water until you reach the 2 cup line. Add beans and water to the saucepan. Stir well.
- Taste the liquid for salt, and add a little more if needed. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce to a very low simmer and cover with a lid. Set a timer for 15 minutes. The rice should be soft. Let it stand an additional 5 minutes before serving.