October 10, 2010

Tropical Black Beans and Rice

In making yesterdays' tropical feast, I wanted a side dish that would complement the spicy pineapple slices and glaze of the featured recipe, Caribbean-Style Pork Chops with Rum-Pineapple Sauce.  Also, I hadn't either made or had black beans in rice for awhile.  So, the big question for me was how to prepare the beans and rice.

Beans and rice, individually or in combination, are very versatile foods.  They can be used for a variety of purposes, and can be prepared in any number of ways... Cuban style, African style, souther-style, Cajun-style dirty rice and beans, you name it.   The variety comes largely from three factors:  what spices and seasonings you use, what else you put in the mix and what sorts of liquid(s) one uses to cook the rice.

The question of spice was a pretty easy one.  I knew I wanted something that would go with the spices used in making the main-course pork chops, but that I didn't want to compete with the jerk seasonings of the meat.  Allspice seemed the best bet, as it would add a bit of zestiness without really standing out, and a touch of salt is pretty much a given.   As to other ingredients, for the sort of effect I had in mind, onions fried in some sort of oil were an obvious source.   I decided to fry them in butter to give the dish a bit of savory undertone, and because I didn't plan to cook them for very long before adding the liquid.  A bit of garlic seemed like a good addition.   Now it came to the big question:  Did I want a complete contrast with the spiciness of the main dish, or did I want the beans and rice to complement the pork chops by virtue of its own qualities?  Already having figured out what I wanted to use as liquid, I went the "stand on its own" route, so I decided to mince up a habanero and fry it up with the onions. 

As to the liquid, I knew from the start I wanted to cook the rice in chicken broth or stock in order to make the rice creamy and hearty.  However, chicken-flavored-rice reminds one more of the sort of side dish one makes from a packet or small box purchased in the grocery store than it does "tropical", so I went with some coconut milk as well, to make the rice even creamier and to add more of a tropical, fruity flavor.  Liking that idea, I decided to add a bit of lemon zest toward the end to add a bit more of a fruity and slightly sour element.   As a last decision, I decided to go with fragrant jasmine rice over standard long-grain rice mostly on a whim, because I hadn't cooked anything using jasmine rice in awhile.  It turned out to be a good choice.

Tropical-Style Black Beans and Rice
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1       small onion, diced
1       habanero pepper, seeded and minced fine
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 1/4 cups chicken broth or stock
1 3/4 cups coconut milk
2       cups uncooked jasmine rice
1.4    teaspoon salt
2       cans of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2    teaspoon lime zest
1/4    teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped cilantro to garnish, if desired

Heat the butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  When the butter is hot, add the onion and habanero pepper.  Cook, stirring often, 4 minutes. When the onion has turned clear, add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring often, for 2 more minutes. 

Add chicken broth, coconut milk, rice and salt.  Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then cover and reduce heat to low.  When the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, stir in the black beans, lime zest and allspice, then cover and continue to cook until all liquid is absorbed. 

I noted in the recipe for the chops that one might choose different sorts of chilis, based on personal heat preference, but in this case, if you want the heat to show up at all given the presence of the coconut milk and the amount of rice and beans, it is important to use a pretty hot pepper.  At the same time, one doesn't want things too hot (like, say, a Scotch bonnet pepper) for risk of throwing off the balance of flavors.  So, for this recipe, sticking with the habanero seems the best choice.

As shown below, on the plates I served up the chops topped with the fried pineapples and the sauce atop a mound of rice.  The two worked together great, so I'd say this recipe was a success.

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