The Caribbean “Rice & Beans”
Just before we left for Costa Rica, my best friend gave me a food challenge: To prepare a meal based on local ingredients using only the equipment available at our disposal.
Luckily for us, our base camp on the Caribbean coast, Alby Lodge, had a communal kitchen 7 times the size of our tiny cubicle in the Big Apple. So the joke’s on my BFF! Not so much of a challenge…puhahahaha (***as I twirl my evil mustache***).
Our private thatched-roof hut sat in the midst of a lush rainforest setting with troops of monkeys swinging from tree to tree directly above our heads. And I mean “directly above our heads”.
In fact, one morning as we were sipping on a cup of coffee on our little porch, we suddenly heard a crackling sound and in the blink of an eye, a branch fell to the ground next to us along with a monkey scurrying quickly across the grass to seek refuge in a more stable tree.
Another morning, we discovered a Jackson Pollock-type masterpiece on the entire exterior of our rental SUV… but substitute the colorful oil paints for monkey feces. That’s right folks, when you park under a tree in the rainforest, it won’t be bird doo doo plastered all over your car. And is it wrong that I’m talking about animal feces in a food blog?!
Okay, I digress. Back to the BFF Food Challenge. Like I said, it was quite the luxury to have such a spacious kitchen with THREE gas stove tops! Here in Manhattan, we’re slumming it with two teeny tiny electric burners. And although our lodge was situated in a natural monkey habitat, just a five-minute stroll on a gravel path led us to the village market stocked with enough ingredients to create a delicious meal.
I decided to try my hand at one of the local staples they simply call “rice and beans”. The obviously stated ingredients are simmered in coconut milk which adds a unique dimension to this Caribbean dish. Fortunately, our gracious host allowed me to quickly research on the internet any other ingredients that may be included. And unfortunately, I overlooked the small detail about the length of cooking time for the beans. Not extremely well versed in legumes, I failed to realize that it would take 2 hours for the beans to become tender.
And when you’re on vacation, who wants to spend 2 hours babysitting a pot of beans? Not us. So we ate them… al dente. Very al dente.
I also threw in a few peppers for a little kick. Except these were actually habañeros, unbeknownst to me, of course. Apparently I had culinary brain fart that day. So I innocently scratched my cheek after slicing a few of these bad boys which then sent a burning sensation on my entire face for about thirty minutes. And during those thirty minutes, I spent fishing out the diced segments of fire balls from the pot of simmering rice in fear of the same repercussions on our taste buds.
Aside from my international Culinary Musings bloopers, our home-cooked dinner was truly unforgettable.
We accompanied our less-than-perfect “rice and beans” with freshly caught grilled mackerel and shrimp skewers bought from a fisherman in Puerto Viejo.
After dinner, we sipped on our glass of Costa Rican rum with freshly crushed pineapple while the howler monkeys and frogs serenaded us.
We were in paradise.
|2||cups long grain rice|
|1||14 oz. can kidney beans, drained (this is the shortcut version)|
|1||14 oz. can coconut milk|
|2 1/2||cups water|
|4||cloves garlic, minced|
|1||large shallot, minced|
|1/2||habañero pepper, seeded and diced|
|salt & pepper to taste|
- In a dutch oven or cast iron pot, saute garlic and shallots with vegetable oil over low heat. Once the shallots begin to wilt, stir in cloves, rice, beans, coconut milk, water and paprika. Season with salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil.
- Once it comes to a boil, stir in the habañero and lower heat. Cover with a lid and simmer until all the liquid is absorbed, approximately 25 minutes. When the rice is done, remove from heat and keep the lid on for another 5 minutes. Fluff rice with a fork and serve hot.