by Nicole Kimberling
By the time most people reach their thirties, they will perceive the obligation to occasionally provide nourishment to at least one child. Perhaps this child is your own. Or maybe it is the child of a friend who is in the hospital producing an additional child. Or the child could turn out be some neighborhood stray who guilelessly shows up on the porch at lunchtime every Sunday clutching a well-worn fork.
I do not pretend to know how to feed little children. Insofar as I’ve observed they exist entirely on ketchup, macaroni and cheese and meat. My experience lies in feeding the vacuum-mouthed, black hole of caloric consumption commonly called the adolescent.
Many cooks staring into the yawning, lightless chasm of the fourteen-year-old mouth will simply buckle under the pressure and call out for pizza. And I don’t blame them. It’s hard to look into that limitless void of hunger and not feel so inadequate to the task at hand that professional assistance is required. I offer a different, cheaper, healthier solution: Beans & Rice.
Step One: Scrutinize your young diner and interrogate.
Is this child a vegetarian? Vegan? Are they allergic to any foods? Do they hate any kind of food? Do they love any kind of food? What’s important to remember during this interview is that, while you are attempting to discern your diner’s taste, the meal that will ultimately be made is Beans & Rice. All answers should fall within Beans & Rice parameters. Should the diner respond with a statement such as, “the only thing I really hate is Beans & Rice,” feel free to invite them to get a job, make some money and use it to dine elsewhere. Remember that you’re trying to be a good host, not an 18th century below-stairs servant. If your diner tells you that they don’t like beans, suggest chickpeas instead. Most people who won’t eat beans because of their texture will eat chickpeas.
If the diner completely refuses to eat Beans & Rice point the youth in the direction of the refrigerator and suggest that they help themselves to whatever meal they find in there. Blithely quip, “Mi kitchen es su kitchen, kid. Knock yourself out,” then make yourself some Beans & Rice. It is crucially important here that you make enough to feed both yourself and the child even though that same child has refused to eat. Few contrary teens will have the coordination, knowledge or attention span to make their own food. Something like 90% of them will slink back defeated and eat what you made. The remaining 10%, who actually follow through and make their own dinner should be commended for their efforts, no matter how bizarre or repulsive they might turn out to be. This contrarian problem-solver will most likely blossom into a cool adult . . . eventually.
NOTE: A very small percentage of diners will refuse to eat altogether if they cannot have exactly what they want. Take comfort in the fact that they are most likely used to going hungry . . . And if they aren’t, going hungry now will be a great life lesson for them.
Step Two: Formulate a Plan.
Beans & Rice has three major components: beans, rice, and sauce. Rice is easy, simply buy what you like and cook it according to package instructions.
Sauce is the most complex part of the dish. It needs to have a base: three easy bases are tomato, coconut milk, and reduced stock. Into that base goes the flavoring. Flavorings are virtually limitless. Here are a few bean, sauce base and flavor combinations:
New Orleans Style: red beans with onion, green pepper, celery, and thyme in diced tomato base. (Optional: sliced smoked sausage, splash of red wine.)
South Indian: garbanzo beans with whole cumin seed, yellow onion, fresh tomato, scallion, and ginger in coconut base
African: red beans with ginger and berbere in diced tomato base. To finish this dish, thin a spoonful of peanut butter with water and stir into beans at the very end, once they have been removed from the heat. (Optional: diced cooked poultry, such as chicken or turkey.)
French: white beans with onion, carrot, celery, and tarragon in a chicken or vegetable stock that has been augmented with a small amount of tomato paste (Optional: diced cooked bacon, splash of white wine.
Persian: garbanzo beans with onion, garlic, and dill in a crushed tomato base.
Step Three: Assemble Ingredients
One can of beans will feed two teens or three regular humans. Count the number and age affiliation of the diners present and gather appropriate number of cans. The ratio of sauce base to beans is 1:1 so for every can of beans, one can of sauce base is required.
Step Four: Cook
In a saucepan, heat cooking oil, about 2 Tbsp for each can of beans. Add flavorings such as whole spices, garlic, or ginger first. Then add diced vegetables such as carrot or onion.
NOTE: the combined volume of chopped vegetables should not exceed one cup per can of beans.
Cook vegetables until soft. Add wine, if using. Add sauce base, bring to a simmer and reduce by half—about ten minutes.
NOTE: when using coconut milk, skip the reduction step. Coconut milk does not need to be reduced.
Once base has reduced, add seasoning such as powdered spices, scallions, and fresh or dried herbs.
Drain and rinse canned beans, then add to pot. At this point, there might not be enough sauce to lubricate the beans. Just add water or stock until the beans are barely covered. Add cooked meats if using. Cook five minutes more, then taste and season with salt.
Step Five: Plate, Garnish, and Serve
Heap rice in a bowl and spoon beans over half of the rice, leaving the second half pristine. Sprinkle with appropriate garnishes such as such fresh herbs or grated cheese. Serve and enjoy.