Wednesday, March 16, 2016

In Defense of Rice & Beans

Occasionally, in a conversation about food, I'll hear someone make a comment regarding rice and beans. Here are a couple of statements that I have heard: 
Oh, we don't really do rice and beans. 
If you're having rice and beans, I will buy you food sometime! 
I do not believe that these-or similar statements-are spoken with any ill intent. However, words are very powerful and can carry a lot of meaning, both in what is and is not said. In both of the phrases I heard regarding rice and beans, I was led to gain a few particular perceptions. Perhaps I'm reading too much into these words, but I think that what was said naturally leads to what was unsaid. 

The first statement portrayed a bit of pretentiousness to me. If you're going to say that you don't "do" rice and beans, then your words seem to separate you from those who "do" rice and beans. And I don't know about the rest of y'all, but as someone who grew up hearing about the poor children in third world countries who eat "a cup of rice a day" through presentations and fundraising literature, I immediately think of those who "do" rice and beans as the people in impoverished countries. So, if you set yourself apart as not being one of those who "do rice and beans," then-at least to me-it seems like you're setting yourself apart from all of the poor people. 

The second statement seems to reflect an attitude that a diet with lots of rice and beans means that you are an impoverished person who cannot afford to buy "better food." While rice and beans are incredibly affordable, their price tag does not mean that they are a "bad" choice of food. Plus, this whole regime of looking down on rice and beans can come across as prideful; showing that we can do better than those people, because we don't need rice and beans. 

I'm not saying that you have to enjoy eating a diet largely based on rice and beans, or that you necessarily need to eat this way. Rather, I think it would be beneficial to stop making these types of comments, which can come across as a bit degrading. Furthermore, if our judgment is clouded by negative perceptions of rice and beans, we blind ourselves to the variety and awesomeness of these foods!  

Believe it or not, I didn't even pull all of our beans out of the cupboard!
Also, don't mind the super ginormous bottle of syrup in the background-we're
"go big or go home" kind of people sometimes :) 
Rice and beans provide proteins, carbohydrates, fiber, and vitamins. Beans can also help improve blood cholesterol. Rice can also help reduce high blood pressure. Naturally, we can't get all of our nutrients from only beans and rice, and it's good to vary the foods we eat and supplement our diet with fruits, vegetables, or meat. Rice and beans are healthy and good to eat in moderation (all things in moderation!), and they are affordable (while in college, we would sometimes chat about our big 20 pound bags of rice that we would purchase at the beginning of the semester!).  Furthermore, they can sit in your kitchen for quite a long time! This is handy when there are only a few people to cook for. While a bag of uncooked potatoes will start rotting, uncooked rice and beans will just sit there, waiting patiently for the day when they become a beautiful dish. Seriously, rice and beans are wonderful! 

I tend to wonder if people who look down on rice and beans limit their image of these foods to refried beans and plain white rice. Nothing against refried beans and rice, but after a while, that may get a little boring. However, there is a much greater variety of rice and beans out there! Brown rice, white rice, red rice, black rice, long grain...the list goes on and on! Besides pinto beans, there are also red beans, black beans, adzuki beans, garbanzo beans, and lima beans, to name a few (though there are many more!). The ways in which you can eat rice and beans (or just rice, or just beans) are endless. In case you need a couple ideas to jump off of, here are some of the ways in which we eat rice and/or beans: 

Sushi-easy (and inexpensive) to make at home, adaptable to a huge variety of ingredients (as untraditional as it may be, we once made BBQ sushi with a tiny bit of leftover chicken, and it was awesome), and so delicious! And sushi restaurants have some very awesome fancy rolls, too. 

Falafels (and hummus)-one of my all-time favorite meals! I haven't made it in a while since the thought of deep-fried anything made me nauseous for many months (thanks, pregnancy), and bakes falafels are just not the same, but I'm making these next week! 

Fried rice-we usually toss an assortment of whatever vegetables and beans we have lying around into our fried rice with a couple of eggs. Not the most authentic, but it works for us! (sometimes I throw peanuts in, which is quite good, too!)

Stacks of rice and beans-not creative at all, but we'll just heap rice and pinto beans (either whole or refried) onto a plate with fresh vegetables and salsa. Simple and delicious!

Bean burgers-I've only ever made pinto bean burgers before (which taste a little big like refried beans), but I just bought a bunch of black beans to give that kind of burger a try! 

Red beans and rice-super yummy and simple! And Shannon just posted a delicious-looking recipe for a crock-pot version! 

We've also made cold lentil casserole served over rice, adzuki bean casserole served over rice, and rice flour dangos dipped in red bean paste. If I thought about it more, I could probably list off a bunch more ways that we've eaten rice and/or beans, or different spices that we've used (Oh! Like curry powder! Curry powder is amazing!!!!). I think you get the idea. Rice and beans are awesome and underrated. 

Today, I invite you to do a couple of things. First, please think about how the words you speak convey different attitudes and perceptions. We may not mean anything bad by comments that are anti-rice and beans, but these kinds of phrases can sound a little unkind. Second, I encourage you to expand your perception of rice and beans, especially if you have a limited view of these foods. Think outside of the box. Dare to walk down the bean aisle at the store and purchase a new type of legume-perhaps even one that you never knew existed! Instead of holding ourselves aloft with narrow, negative views towards rice and beans, let us broaden our horizons and live in a spirit of wonder, awe, and discovery. 

[Also, a piece of advice: Get a rice cooker. Convenient, makes rice extremely well, and is completely worth the counter space. One of my friends gifted me with her extra rice cooker, and I use it all of the time!]

You May Also be Interested In the following post: 

7 Strategic Tactics for Winning Mealtimes when you're on a Budget of Time or Money (Or, How I survived college without Ramen)


  1. I've never heard the phrase "rice and beans" together...I'm wondering if those two paired as a phrase is a regional thing or an American thing I'm not familiar with. Our diet is largely rice-based, no surprise, living in Asia,..and we buy our rice in 20 lb. bags, with complimentary bugs inside bags...which is just normal here (I just wash the rice like 20 times before cooking it, no big deal, haha!).

    Beans are delicious, too, though outside of lentil-based dhal, I don't usually think of them eaten together with rice. I use them more in our Mexican dishes--canned beans are a luxury here, though, a little hard to find and rather pricey, so usually I do the method of cooking black beans overnight.

    So yeah, while the phrase "rice and beans" sounds a little unappealing (I would say "beans and tortillas" and "rice and spinach" since those are more natural pairings for me), I like both ingredients very much and use them in the majority of our meals.

    1. That could be-it might just be a Midwest thing, or it could just be a thing from the people I know. Makes sense that y'all eat lots of rice! Do you have any super cool ways to season it, or do you prefer it plain? I think "rice and spinach" sounds really, really tasty!
      Also, I find it so crazy canned beans are a luxury over where you live-they are easily one of the cheapest foods in the grocery store by my apartment. It's so interesting to learn about the diets in different corners of the world, and that what's "normal" food for me is "luxury" food for you and your family. How fascinating!

  2. Rice and beans are great! They really are very nutritious and you can prepare them in diverse ways.
    Personally, I do love that they are affordable. We don't eat them because they are the only thing we can afford. However, by saving some money when we buy them, we have a little money available to splurge on other things (lots of fresh fruit, an occasional half gallon of ice cream, etc.).
    Thanks for including my red beans and rice recipe in your post! We're also enjoying a Cuban black bean and cilantro lime rice dish this spring that is sooooo tasty. It's anything but boring!

    1. I think it's neat that you point out saving money on rice and beans allows splurges in other areas-we do that too sometimes! Thanks for mentioning that black bean lime dish-that sounds awesome! Is the link to that recipe on one of your blog posts? I couldn't find it in your Spring Menu post, and I would love to give it a try!

  3. Hello! We eat a lot of rice and beans too - especially at the moment, since we gave up meat for Lent. I think chickpeas (garbanzo beans?) are our favourites, closely followed by red kidney beans... and podding a bunch of broad beans (fava beans?) kept my eldest two out of trouble for a good half hour earlier this week ;-)

    1. Hi, Catherine! That's impressive y'all gave up meat for Lent! I love garbanzo beans! The only way I ever cook with them is in hummus or falafels-do you have a favorite way to use garbanzo beans?

  4. Rice and beans are one of my favorite meals! :-) I also like how it can be in a small way, solidarity with those who only have access to rice and maybe beans too eat. Interesting post!

    1. Lianna, I love how you bring up acting in solidarity with others! That just adds to the awesomeness of rice and beans :) Very cool that they are one of your favorite meals-what's your favorite way to have rice and beans?

  5. Rice and beans are part of my culture as a Cuban American. I grew up with several different varieties of rice and beans and have been lucky enough to never hear anyone say they are above eating such a great staple. It's not even about price, it's about tradition in my family and in my culture to have black or red beans and rice, or even garbanzos or lentils over rice. For me, it's just a natural pairing.

    1. Lissette, that is so wonderful that you've grown up with this as part of your culture! I also think it's a pretty natural pairing, even though I haven't experienced these kinds of dishes because of any kind of cultural background that I have. Having garbanzos over rice intrigues me; I've never thought of that before! I'll have to give it a try, because I love garbanzos-thanks for sharing the idea!