Beans and Rice

March 21st, 2011
by John Bowker

It’s been a long time coming, but my doctor finally said the words I’ve been dreading forever:

“You know, you really need to start watching your cholesterol”

It’s not like it was a surprise. High cholesterol runs in my family and at least a couple branches of the family tree got pruned by the Dark Arborist of heart disease. Add to that the fact that pork is pretty near a sacrament to me and clearly I have some work to do.

What I’m *not* doing: Panicking. During a recent visit, I took my mother to Southern Season, a local place that’s probably the largest specialty food emporium I’ve ever seen outside of Montreal. They have Iberico ham at Southern Season (for only $170/lb!) They sell fresh duck fat and Tuscan lardo by the pound. For some odd reason their coffee selection sucks, but aside from that they’ve got quite a respectable stock of gourmet and international food items at prices only about two to three times what you’d pay at the appropriate ethnic grocery. In short, it’s my kind of place. After sharing my doctor’s news with my mother however, it was rather like I’d taken her to a particularly dirty and dangerous whorehouse.

“Oh god, you can’t touch that!”
“You stay away from that!”
“You should never EVER eat that!”

In keeping with the whorehouse metaphor, screw that. If I’m going to act like I’m dead, I at least want the tax benefits. However, if I’m going to continue to explore food, to seek out new recipes from new civilizations and boldy shove into my mouth what nobody I know has shoved into their mouth before, I need to look at my regular diet a bit so I can afford to splurge when the good stuff comes around.

A lot of the changes are really easy this time of the year. The farmers market is going full steam and only getting better. Fresh radishes, greens, hothouse cucumbers, and strawberries are all over, and the more substantial stuff is right around the corner. I’m already a huge fan of what a friend recently referred to as “Old People Cereal” (Shredded Wheat, Grape Nuts, the various porridges) so jacking up the fiber is easy. Another big source of fiber is dried beans and digging through the cookbooks, I remembered Paul Prudhomme.

I had to look up his bio to make sure he was still alive, because I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen any serious food writing that referenced his name. Part of the New Orleans crowd, he had a bit of fame in the 80’s and 90’s with the Cajun/Creole craze but for whatever reason he never took the Emeril route and made the jump to TV superstardom. I have two or three of his cookbooks (Paul Prudhomme’s Seasoned America is particularly good) and there’s a certain comforting sameness to the recipes. They all start with emptying your spice rack into a bowl. Prudhomme is Penzy’s best friend; the garlic and onion powder, cayenne, and dry mustard get a serious workout in everything and surprisingly in this era of mandatory fresh herbs and spices, it all tastes pretty good.

One of the more unusual books he wrote however was about his trying to change his eating habits. Prudhomme wasn’t a small guy (In his photos he looks sort of like Dom DeLuise) and the years of roux and butter and pork fat were catching up to him. His cookbook A Fork in the Road reflects that shift with dozens of recipes that go to great lengths to eliminate any possible fat or processed sugar (though not salt) and still taste good. Some are more successful than others but there are several really innovative techniques. One of the things I’d discovered back when I bought the book 15 years ago was he had several recipes for making snacks out of dried beans as well as another recipe for a snack made from spiced, boiled, dehydrated rice.

Prudhomme never actually suggested combining them, but if you’re going for a reasonably palatable complete protein in a dry-pack format, you could do worse than this stuff:

The rice is Basmati, boiled with spices until tender, rinsed and then cooked down in a non-stick pan until dry and browned. The beans are Goya Great Northerns, soaked overnight in water and spices, boiled with a bit of added broth and then dehydrated in a food dehydrator. Prudhomme’s recipe doesn’t call for toasting the beans but I had the hot pan when I finished the rice so I gave them a bit of browning as well. The end result is spicy with cayenne and white/black pepper, lightly flavored with onion/garlic, and overall really addictive. It’s also astonishingly filling; like dehydrated fruit, serving sizes are often deceptive. More than once I’ve looked up at the end of the day and realized I’d missed at least one if not two meals and I still wasn’t hungry because I’d snacked on the mix earlier in the day and my body was happy enough with that. It’s not going to become my replacement for eating regular well-balanced meals obviously, but as a quick, light, convenient snack, it beats the hell out of PowerBars.


Posted in Food | Comments (0)

No comments yet

Leave a Reply