7/6/10

What I've learned from Beans & Rice @ Chow

When we first developed the Beans & Rice menu item (listed as one of the protein plates on the Tapas menu), we figured that it would be a pretty neat way to open up our own and other people's ideas of how such a simple food (eaten as a staple the world over) could become something special with a little extra love and attention to detail. Over time, however, it became the "go to" dish for people who have Issues with everything: gluten, soy, nuts, garlic, onions, sugar, black pepper, etc. Trust me, those folk do exist, and I think it's equally important to reach out to them as to those who can/do eat everything. Why? Because how nice is it to know that when you go out with your friends, you can go to a place where at least one thing on the menu is specifically for you, and that you won't have to think twice about ordering it.

Every beans and rice special we run at Chow has no soy, gluten, wheat, sugar, pepper/chiles, garlic, or onions. While this may seem restrictive to some, for us, it's set us free. Why? Because let's face it: many of us tend to steer towards old standbys, because of convenience or lack of incentive to try anything else. I'm equally (if not supremely) guilty of this, so I totally understand how it goes. How does pretty close to every savoury recipe begin? Start with oil in a pot, and sautee garlic/onions/leeks/shallots/scallions/other member of the allium family, and then add anything else to that. It's almost as if the allium plants have to be there to make a dish happen, which is kind of silly, when you really stop to think about it.

There are entire chunks of the population on the earth who don't eat onions or garlic. South Indian Brahmins are one such group. There are some groups of Buddhists who follow the same restriction. I've eaten food from both groups with quite delicious results. Why can't we try something different?

So onwards we went onto the journey of finding a couple of dishes that would work well with the restrictions. One of them is what Boss Man calls Italian White Beans, wherein you cook white beans (cannellini beans, in fact) until they're tender. Then, you toss them with on- (see? I almost typed onions) erm ... nutritional yeast, olive oil, basil, and salt. They're absolutely scrumptious. Then there's the traditional South Indian daals, where they just use mustard seeds, cumin seeds, oni-- (damn, almost did it again!) tomatoes, turmeric, and a bit of salt to make a hearty stew that's served over steaming hot rice. From the daals come the Mexican style beans, where you'd use copious amounts of Mexican Oregano leaves, along with a hit of toasted cumin, and a bit of salt to taste.

As I started to experiment, I grew bolder, taking new chances with various beans, such as a pinto bean in mole sauce (which has more flavour components than I care to list), or black beans with yucca and spices. I love doing Louisiana style beans and greens, where I simmer kidney beans until they're tender, then stir through celery, carrots, and bell peppers, along with a bit of hickory salt and regular salt to taste. Heaven! Once we started mixing up various vegetables with the beans, along with different spices, the skies opened up, and it started raining pure inspiration for new dishes. What about potatoes? What about pumpkins? Squashes? Dark leafy green veggies? Sweet potatoes? And while we're there, what about using different methods of cooking said veg? There are times when I'll toss the veggies in a spice and oil mixture, and roast them in the oven until they're tender and lovely smelling, then stir them through the cooked beans, so that there's a nice contrast in textures and flavours.

Then there's the times that we're in an absolute rush, and I have to come up with something in a few minutes (to spice the beans). Those times are even more fun, because it shows what you can accomplish while thinking on your feet. I once had some leftover roasted potatoes from another dish that I was cooking (plain roasted, of course), and I simply stirred it through my bean pot along with a generous hit of curry powder, coconut milk and frozen peas to make a creamy bean curry. It was quite nice. Unfortunately, I had only made a small batch, because I didn't have time to cook more than that amount of beans.

What am I getting at? There is no reason why you can't do this at home, especially since you can use garlic powder and onion powder. When you're in a rush for food to happen quickly, pop open a tin of beans, along with the liquid they're packed in, and stir through whatever likely spices you have lying in your pantry. Some good complementary spices for beans include: chili powder (not the ground chiles, but the spice blend), thyme, cumin, rosemary, marjoram, basil, oregano, what have you. Nuke it in the microwave for about five minutes (covered), and you've got a fairly decent meal knocked out in a relatively short time.

Neat, huh?
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