THE WASHINGTON POST – I’ve been thinking about beans and rice a lot lately, and it’s only partly because I wrote a book about the former.
I’ve been thinking about how the combination got me through some of my poorest years, when I was putting myself through college after my father cut me off financially.
These were the instant-ramen years, but at least a couple times a week I’d sit for hours at Austin’s Les Amis cafe (which we nicknamed ‘Lazy Me’ because of the lackadaisical service) and eat a big bowl of brown rice topped with saucy black beans, salsa, sour cream and sometimes a little guacamole.
I can’t seem to remember the exact price, but it couldn’t have been more than a few bucks, because that was about all I could afford. That bowl of beans and rice became, on many days, the only thing I would eat.
And it was satisfying and nutritious enough to see me through.
I’ve been thinking about all this as the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the livelihoods of countless people who will undoubtedly be looking, just as I was, for similarly cheap, nutritious dishes.
I wrote a few weeks ago about how to cook a simple pot of beans and use it throughout the week, and one of the ways I’m suggesting is indeed that classic combination – this time, made a little more interesting by way of Peru.
One of the nation’s traditional dishes, Tacu Tacu, is basically pan-fried beans and rice. The bean of choice is the creamy canary bean (aka mayocoba or Peruano), and the main spice is aji amarillo paste (made from Peru’s favourite chili). But you can also use pinto or another favourite bean (especially if you made a big pot of them at the beginning of the week), and Tabasco or another vinegary pepper sauce makes a fine substitute for the amarillo.
This often comes topped with steak and/or a fried egg, but it’s delicious and hearty on its own, especially with a crunchy onion salsa. Some Peruvian cooks fry individual portions in the oblong shape of an omelette, but I prefer one a large cake, which you can divide and serve as you please.
It uses leftover white rice, but you can substitute whatever grain – preferably at least day-old and cold – you might have in your fridge.
PERUVIAN BEANS AND RICE (TACU TACU)
For the salsa criolla
Half small red onion, thinly sliced
Two tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
Two tablespoons fresh lime juice
Quarter teaspoon aji amarillo paste (may substitute one teaspoon Tabasco)
Quarter teaspoon kosher salt
For the tacu tacu
Three tablespoons grapeseed, safflower or other neutral vegetable oil
Half small red onion, chopped
Two garlic cloves, chopped
Half teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
One teaspoon aji amarillo paste (may substitute two teaspoons Tabasco)
Two cups cooked or canned canary beans, drained and rinsed (may substitute pinto beans, from two 15-ounce cans)
One cup cold (preferably day-old) cooked white rice
One tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
One tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or one-and-a-half teaspoons dried
One lime, cut into wedges
Make the salsa: In a medium bowl, combine the onion with enough cold water to cover, and let sit for at least 10 minutes, then drain. Toss with the cilantro, lime juice, aji amarillo and salt.
Make the Tacu Tacu: In a 10-inch non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, heat one tablespoon of the oil until shimmering.
Stir in the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, five to six minutes. Stir in the salt and aji amarillo, and scrape the mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Wipe out the skillet.
Add one cup of the beans to the food processor and puree briefly until mostly smooth but still chunky. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. Add the remaining one cup beans (left whole), the rice, parsley and oregano to the bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Taste, and add more salt if needed.
Return the skillet to medium heat and pour in another one tablespoon oil. Add the rice-and-bean mixture and use a spatula to spread it around evenly and lightly pack it down. Cook until deeply browned on the bottom, about seven minutes. Remove from the heat, invert a plate (preferably with no rim) on top of the skillet, and carefully flip both over to land the bean-and-rice cake bottom-side up onto the plate.
Return the skillet to medium heat, pour in the remaining one tablespoon oil, and slide the cake back into the skillet.
Cook for another seven minutes, or until deeply browned on the other side, then invert the plate and flip the skillet over again to land the cake onto the plate.
If the cake cracks or breaks apart, just pat it back together. Top with the salsa and serve hot with lime wedges.