Red Beans, Collard Greens, and Rice

I’m anticipating sharing another recipe soon, but in true delayed blogger fashion, I’m insisting I post this older one before I can move on to other exciting topics.

I’m currently living in a tight budget state, where I am imposing upon myself unachievable standards of limited spending, in attempt to save money to buy a home in the nearish future. I accounted for all of the forms of my significant and menial expenses (and in the process, realized there are many of both), and I assigned semi-arbitrary, somewhat-educated values to each budget. Groceries were the first to whittle down, as I know I’m equally capable of living on $50 a week at Trader Joe’s… or dropping $100 at Whole Foods on two recipes I want to try. As someone who enjoys cooking, insisting on the former can be difficult. But, with coupons and really serious, actually-follow-this planning, it’s been going ok. I’m not totally succeeding, but not all is lost in trying. In any case, foods that are cheap and delicious have been inclusive of the following: anything from a bulk bin, mostly; international foods of international and off-brand origin; vegetables in season; fruits that are truly American and not at all fun; greens by the bucketload; and, for protein, yogurt and eggs. I am trying to bulk up meals with greens, as variety is the cost of life, it seems. I’ve probably out-kaled myself on this blog (not really actually in real life), so in attempt to try new things, I’ve expanded my palate into traditional Southern fare, like collard greens.

I’ve always imagined collard greens to be wiltingly acidic and laden with some sort of pseudo-umami, greasy bacon flavor. The pile of leaves at every barbecue restaurant is at best forlorn and at worst, gray and molted. To say I had low expectations is an understatement. But, as is probably true of all vegetables, it turns out that if you don’t cook collard greens to their bitter death, they’re actually very palatable and quite achievably delicious. They are subtly bitter but enjoyably verdant, not very unlike kale. (And yes, verdant is a descriptor of color, but it seems even words are on a limited budget for me currently). What the collard greens do best, I’d say, is contrast an otherwise mushy plate of carbohydrates, that, although delicious, leaves much texturally to be desired.

Red beans and rice is a classic creole recipe that I frankly had given no time to prior to this point. It seemed, as per everything above, as though it could be distinctly underwhelming. When I’m being cheap for lunch, I’ll often throw together a mix of black beans, rice, and avocado, which tastes definitely no more than the sum of its parts, and serves only as a whispy attempt at indulgent Mexican food during an otherwise lackluster workday. I ascribed the same hope to red beans and rice, and yet somehow, this dish truly transcends.

Maybe it’s that I used dried beans to start, simmering them for hours with spices and vegetables, allowing for flavors to deeply develop. Maybe it’s some magic pairing that those of creole heritage revolutionized to the disinterest of other colonies. Maybe it’s just better when you’re hungry, and you’ve decided you’re not eating meat that week. Regardless of rationale, this recipe (while not entirely following tradition) is vegetarian, easily made vegan, absurdly simple, primarily hands off, and probably a total of $3 all around. I had to freeze half after portioning out 4 servings, so as far as economy goes, this is a good choice.

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Red Beans, Collard Greens, and Rice

Serves 8

Red beans:

  • 1 lb. bag dried red beans
  • 2 tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, diced finely
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. barbecue sauce of choice (I used Trader Joe’s garlic sriracha)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Collard greens:

  • 2 large bunches collard greens, sliced into strips
  • 1 tbsp. butter or olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Brown rice, cooked, as much as you want considering how many you’re serving (6-8 cups)

Starting about 8 hours prior to cooking, rinse the dried beans in a colander, and, supposedly, check for rocks (which seems absurd). Add the beans to a large bowl and cover with 8 cups of water. Leave the beans soaking overnight/ during the day prior to preparing this recipe.

After 8 hours or overnight, drain the beans. In a large Dutch oven or stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the diced vegetables and sauté until lightly browning, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the spices, salt, and barbecue sauce and stir. Add the red beans to the pot and cover with 6 cups of water. Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 1/2 – 3 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally, mashing up some beans as you’re able. Taste and season.

In a separate fairly large pan, melt the butter for the collard greens. Add the collard greens to the butter and sauté until wilting, about 10-15 minutes, over medium-low heat. Season sparingly as the greens will wilt down to a smaller volume.

Prepare the brown rice according to preference and/ or package directions. Season to taste.

In a bowl, layer the brown rice, collard greens, and red beans. Enjoy, probably all week!

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Hello, and Risotto Primavera

I seem to have entirely neglected, if not per perception left entirely, this website. And, truly, the perception was my own, as I had decided, in moderate intention, to stop posting and let my recipes slowly fade into the infinity of the Cloud. But as everyone in my life knows, I finally moved from Chicago to North Carolina. Durham, more specifically. And in leaving, I was interested again in keeping this up, bolstered as well by the encouragement of several friends. So the blog will be resurrected from its really-dusty-kitchen, dishes-haven’t-been-done-in-weeks level disregard. And it seems I’ll need to change my subtitle.

I was told from some people that possibly this should no longer be titled “Dinner for Brian,” as the motivation for the title originally- that I was posting recipes in Chicago for my brother to try at home- is now less substantiated. If I want, I can go see Brian on any weeknight, make him dinner (or go out together), and receive immediate feedback. The internet no longer is a necessary medium. But, if I’m being honest, I mostly like the idea of cooking for a tangible (if now much more available) person. Yes, I usually eat alone. And yes, these recipes are often to serve my palate more than my lovely ginger brother’s. But I do take credit for expanding significantly his culinary horizons, and it’s still with his review in mind that I write. (Not to diminish the influences of my other brothers, who are easily as important and definitely more interesting than I am).

The real reason I’m posting tonight, as opposed to a lazy Sunday (my usual date), is because romanesco broccoli was on sale at Whole Foods today, and it looks so super cool, and I wanted to use it. And then, in doing so, I was thinking that everyone I know needs to cook with romanesco broccoli- mostly for the fun shape- and I must provide a recipe. Also, this is really, very delicious, and it is also incredibly easy to put together. I had never made risotto with actual arborio rice before, always favoring risotto from barley (also, where would I find arborio rice?). But in an attempt to have really quite pretty jars full of grains to hide in my cabinets (in the ideal of someday having this beautiful kitchen with open and exposed shelving), I bought a bunch of grains from my neighborhood co-op, and at that time I found arborio rice sneaking among the quinoa. I determined it must be tried.

Well, this has been a lengthy composition… Here’s the recipe.

Risotto Primavera

Serves 2

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup arborio rice

1/2 tbsp. butter

1/2 white onion, diced finely

2 carrots, sliced thinly

1 head romanesco broccoli, chopped into small florets

1/3 cup frozen peas

1/3 cup frozen corn

1/4 cup shredded or grated Parmesan

Salt & pepper

Basil, sliced, to serve

Heat the stock in a small quart pan until just boiling. Lower to low heat and keep warm.

In a larger pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots and sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the arborio rice and mix. Add the broccoli. Season lightly. Add 2-3 ladle-fulls of stock to the pan (it will simmer and deglaze slightly). Stir and stir until the rice has absorbed most of the stock. (It’s not ridiculous, you can take breaks from stirring; just don’t leave it for a long period of time). Add another ladle or two of stock. Stir. Repeat this process until the rice is soft and cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. You may not use all of your stock. Once the rice is cooked and most of the stock is absorbed, add the peas, corn, and Parmesan. Stir to combine well. Taste and season again.

Serve and top with fresh basil. Admire the pretty broccoli. And eat!

Mango Chicken

The trouble with life is that it keeps going. Sometimes you’d really benefit from punching life in the face, taking a nap for 2 weeks, then starting from a fresh place. But what actually happens is you get a flat tire in a snowstorm and then get in a car accident in a snow storm 4 days later and then have to go grocery shopping lest you live another week on Larabars and cafeteria soup. Sometimes life throws so many lemons at your face you feel like you’re in a lemon mountain, and you’re not quite sure if there’s anything more than lemons out there. These times call for a solid nap, a quiet place, a really interesting and captivating book, and a steaming hot and comforting meal. Maybe followed by wine; I won’t judge. It may be that you only get 24 hours before life demands you become productive again, but if you work at relaxing hard enough, you can come out almost like new. (I’ll take an interlude to say, what really would help me out is if someone could just fly me to Hawaii for a month long vacation, where sipping beach drinks and “surfing” are the only tasks required of me. I’d appreciate this trip for free, also). As I was driving home from the car service center, in my lovely new rental car for the week, I overwhelmingly began to crave my favorite dish from Rangoli, a truly beautiful and delicious Indian restaurant on the West side near my old apartment. Sitting in traffic, I knew there was absolutely no way I was taking a (probably) hour and a half detour just for dinner, as I had only eaten (the rest of my) yogurt and cereal as my meal for the day. However, I knew I needed groceries, so I convinced myself to drive home, grab groceries in under 30 minutes, and try my hand at my own version. This, as my luck would currently not have it, turned out amazingly well on the first try. I believe I may have perfectly replicated the recipe on a slightly-educated whim, as it turned out just as I remembered it. A rich, warm, definitely-spicy-but-slightly-sweet sauce surrounding juicy chicken breast and luscious mangoes. The sauce kicks at the end, thanks to a pretty heavy spice blend, but the mango cools at just the right time, ultimately encouraging you to eat way too fast and start to overheat a bit. I have to say, though, eating a fulfilling dinner, finally restocking my fridge, and looking forward to nothing but Internet browsing and Anna Karenina for the night, I feel as though I almost salvaged this Friday.

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Mango Chicken

Serves 4

1 cup brown rice

2 1/2 cups water

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch cubes

1 tbsp. grapeseed oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

1 jalapeno, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup roasted red and yellow peppers, chopped (or 1 raw bell pepper, chopped)

1 1/2 cups mango, fresh or frozen, chopped and divided

2 tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. chili powder

1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. cayenne

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

6 oz. can tomato paste

1 tbsp. sriracha

1 1/2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup coconut milk

Salt & pepper, to taste

In a medium sauce pan, prepare brown rice by bringing about 2 1/2 cups water to a boil and adding 1 cup of rice (ratio depending on brand and style of rice; defer to package directions). Turn the heat to low, cover, and simmer brown rice for about 35 minutes, until water is absorbed and rice is fluffy. Season with salt and pepper and let rest, covered.

In a large sauté pan, preferably a few inches deep, heat grapeseed oil over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 4-5 minutes. Add jalapeno and garlic and sauté another 1-2 minutes, until fragrant. Add 1/2 cup of mango and stir to incorporate. Toss the spices over the vegetable mixture and cook for about 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and sriracha to the pan and cook for another 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with chicken stock and stir until blended. Using an immersion blender, blender, or food processor, blend the sauce until smooth and creamy. Return the sauce to the pan and drop the heat to medium-low. Add coconut milk and stir into the sauce.

As the sauce gently simmers, add the chicken and remaining cup of mango to the pan. Cook the chicken in the sauce until it is cooked through, being careful not to overcook, for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the chicken is cooked through, remove from heat.

To serve, pile some brown rice onto your plate. Top with chicken and mango in sauce. If you had some cilantro, that would pair nicely here. I served this with some roasted broccoli to get a bit more green with my dinner, which I’d recommend as it was absolutely delicious doused in spicy mango sauce.

After dinner, feel free to relax and dream of vacations passed, like maybe when you were in Charleston last weekend and everything was perfect. Maybe sun would solve all of our problems; maybe I should move back south.

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Brunching at beautiful Poogan’s Porch in Charleston, SC

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Just dreaming of life at 75 and sunny.* Indian food will have to suffice for now.

*I don’t know that old man.

Spicy Lime Shrimp with Mango Coconut Brown Rice

I don’t have a lot to say; my brain is tired; my commute was long. I came home from work (or, really, I got out of my car an hour and a half later and came inside), and I was starving. I bought a mango and some accompaniments  a few days ago in thoughts of preparing a summer rice bowl full of spicy grilled shrimp, and then the week passed and all the components rested comfortably in my vegetable drawer. I guess it seemed like too much chopping. But, without much else to go on besides cereal, and knowing those vegetables would soften unappealingly while I spent a (hopefully) fantastic weekend away, I dove in to the prep work. I may work fast in the kitchen, but this recipe is the definition of a 30-minute-meal. It seriously all comes together in the time it takes to simmer brown rice, which is nice because once the timer goes off I am suddenly very impatient to eat. I topped my plate with this steamy, spicy concoction with a cleaned kitchen at the outcome, thanks to some quick swipes of the counter and the clean-as-you-go method. This means I can sit on the couch now and recuperate when I should be packing. How else do 25-year-olds live? Oh wait…

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*Chop, chop, chop*

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Spicy Lime Shrimp with Mango Coconut Brown Rice

Serves 2

20 frozen shrimp, raw, peeled and deveined

Spicy Lime Marinade:

  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 1 tsp. barbecue sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. sriracha
  • 1/4 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • Dash of cayenne

1/2 cup brown rice

3/4 cup light coconut milk

1/2 cup water

2 tbsp. grapeseed oil, divided

1 mango, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

1/2 red onion, diced

Salt & pepper, to taste

First, heat a saucepan over medium-high heat and add coconut milk and water. Once boiling, add brown rice, lower heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 30-35 minutes, until rice is tender and liquid is almost entirely absorbed.

To defrost the shrimp, add shrimp to a colander inside a large bowl. Fill the bowl with chilled water and let soak for 2-3 minutes. Empty the water and replace, and repeat the soaking process. Toss the shrimp in the colander under running water and set aside in a new clean bowl.

Mix the spicy lime marinade by shaking in a jar or whisking to combine. Pour the marinade over the shrimp and toss. Set aside for now (allowing to marinate for about 20 minutes).

Dice the mango and vegetables. In a sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Add the bell pepper and onion, season lightly with salt, and sauté until the onion is translucent and the vegetables have softened. Remove vegetables from the pan and set aside.

In the previously used sauté pan, heat 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil over medium-high heat. Add shrimp to the pan, leaving most of the marinade in the bowl. Cook shrimp until pink and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Remove shrimp from the pan and set aside.

By this time, the rice should be done cooking. Add the sautéed vegetables and mango to the coconut rice and season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly to combine. Plate the coconut mango rice and top with shrimp.

Pour the remaining marinade into the sauté pan and simmer over medium heat until reduced and thickened, about 1-2 minutes. Pour marinade over plated shrimp and rice.

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Add Sriracha to serve, possibly with another squeeze of lime juice. A sprinkle of cilantro might be nice. Or maybe even a margarita on the side (not for you, Brian). Regardless, this was good. Creamy coconut milk, sweet mango, acidic lime and onion, and succulent and spicy shrimp are magic companions. Soon it will be summer and this meal will fit right in.

Mexican-inspired Sweet Potato Bowl

When I buy avocados, I buy a lot of avocados. Once the craving hits, it’s easy to imagine eating an avocado at every meal for days and days. Avocados on toast, avocados on tacos, avocados in smoothies, avocados everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s January, which means avocados are both impractical and not in line with the culinary expectations of the season. Anyways, all of this is to say, I have too many avocados in my refrigerator, just chilling out at perfect ripeness totally ready to eat whenever I feel so inclined. I’ve shoved them aside, grabbing an orange, a carrot, the lettuce, the spinach… and then when finally my produce drawer dwindled to some constant bottom remnants, I found the urge to swing back to a Mexican- flavor-inspired meal. This dinner is pretty much always an option given my pantry and refrigerator staples. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a full jar of rice in the cabinet, and it’s rare not to have a sweet potato or two up on the top shelf. So while a deviation from the standard, unthinking, grab-and-go dinner fare, this is just as quick, just as easy, and probably just as available.  Plus! Look at that. We’re vegan, we-eat-plants people again; how healthy and economically-conscious of us.

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Mexican-inspired Sweet Potato Bowl

Serves 3-4

1 cup brown rice

1 can black beans (or about 1 1/2 cups previously cooked)

1-2 avocados, sliced

3 green onions, sliced thinly

1 large sweet potato, diced into 1 in. cubes

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

While the oven is preheating, bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a small to medium sauce pan. Once water is boiling, add brown rice, stir, and reduce the temperature of the stovetop to low heat. Cover the saucepan and simmer the rice for 25-30 minutes, until water is fully absorbed and the rice is fluffy*.

Toss diced sweet potatoes in olive oil and spices, spread evenly in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven until fork-tender and browning, approximately 20-25 minutes.

Slice the avocado and season. Slice the green onions finely and set aside.

Once the sweet potatoes and rice are finished cooking, plate all ingredients together for visual appeal. If you’re like me, though, you want all of these flavors in one bite. If that’s the case, promptly mix all food components into a massive pile and enjoy immensely. Additionally, I know I used a plate for this meal, but I recommend a shallow bowl for neatness when mixing and tossing ingredients together.

This may barely count as cooking, more like preparing with heat, but do not underestimate the delicious contrast between a cool avocado and a spicy, soft-yet-crunchy roasted sweet potato. It’ll have you loading your refrigerator with avocados for weeks.

Brown rice is not always cooked to this ratio or for this exact amount of time, depending on brand and type. Please follow package directions for cooking if dictated otherwise.

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