Meatless Mondays: Spicy Red Beans and Rice

When I made this dish I was thinking about the Cajun Red Beans and Rice but since I’ve been making beans since forever, I decided to spice it up Latin style. I used to have the Cajun version at an awesome restaurant in Belmar, NJ called Ragin’ Cajun many years ago. I haven’t been there in ages and not sure what it’s like now but man, the food there was insanely good. Everything was fresh, homemade, spicy and flavorful! Sometimes the owner/chef would step away from kitchen to check on customers. Always great food, always great service. From the spicy beef tips that weren’t always on the menu, the chicken baton rouge (my favorite!), the shrimp etouffee, to the roasted whole garlic that melted like butter when you spread it over hot, crusty rolls…delicious, I can still taste it now! I have been wanting to go back but sometimes life just gets in the way. I read that the original owner is still there and do plan to get down there before the summer crowd and the crazy Parkway traffic starts. It’s just one of those places you never forget…I hope business has been good for them over the years.

So even though I was thinking Cajun and have been wanting to travel to New Orleans for a while now for some good food, habit had me reach for the chipotle instead and went for more Latin flavors. I think I’m going to do a Cajun series though, or attempt to, although I’m not going to put okra in anything!  That’s one veggie I just can’t stand…and celery. So be on the look out for a “Missing NOLA” recipe series. I love that place!

I prepared the beans the way my Mom taught me growing up; Dominican style but with lots of heat. It’s so easy and great if you’re looking for more hearty vegetarian options and gluten free dishes. This dish is loaded with carbohydrates but there’s also plenty of protein, fiber and sweat inducing heat that makes it a great balanced meal. I actually had it with slices of avocado sprinkled with a little salt but it never made it in the photo. I was so hungry I just wolfed it down!

I also found this great chipotle sauce that I added to this recipe. It’s made by La Morena brand of canned chiles and sauces. I usually get their chipotle in adobo sauce, which is a must for any spicy food lover, and quickly grabbed a can while at my local market. When I got home I noticed it was just sauce and Oh My Goodness! So glad I did because this sauce was amazing. I hope you like this recipe!

Red Beans and Rice

1 can red kidney beans
1 small onion, cut in half & sliced
1 heaping tbsp tomato paste
1 4oz can chipotle sauce
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes
2-3 sprigs cilantro, stems are good, you can remove them later
1 cup water
1-2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 cups rice + water for cooking

Heat oil in saucepan on medium heat. When oil is hot add the onions until translucent. Add tomato paste, chipotle sauce, garlic and stir vigorously until all ingredients are well blended. Add the kidney beans and stir. The beans will be a bit dry with just the paste and you want them to be saucy so add cup of water and stir. Add the ground pepper, red pepper flakes and cilantro and let mixture boil. Turn down heat and let simmer for 5-10 minutes. The beans are already cooked so idea is to let the flavors blend well and water boil off a bit, the beans should not be runny. You can remove the sprigs of cilantro when it’s done.

For rice, heat about 2 cups of water on high heat in a separate saucepan and add salt to taste. Then add a tsp of oil and rice. Water should cover rice completely, about 1/4 in above rice level. Let water boil off and when this happens, turn heat to low and cover saucepan. Cook rice for about 20 minutes until fluffy.

In a bowl, spoon beans over rice and serve while it’s piping hot. You can also add avocado slices seasoned with a pinch of salt.

Breakfast for Dinner: Spicy Fried Cheese and Egg Sandwich

Ever have those days when nothing seems good enough for dinner except a good breakfast? I have those often. Either I’m too tired to make something after a long busy day or I’m just feeling a bit lazy. Sometimes a bowl of cereal will do and other days a spicy egg and cheese sandwich is in order…but not just any egg and cheese sandwich, one made with fried, salty Dominican white cheese. I’m sure you’re wondering “what is that”? Dominican Republic is mostly known for it’s white sand beaches, fantastic golf courses, great cigars and fabulous vacation getaways but cheese? Definitely not the first thing you think about but to a native, whether near or far, it reminds us of childhood, of home and Mom.

As a child, breakfast consisted of eggs, fried cheese, sausages (salchichon) and plantains a dozen ways. Mom would make this almost daily for my Dad but as the years passed my siblings and me became more accustomed to American culture. Our traditional breakfasts were reserved only for weekends and for me, eventually replaced with a lighter fare. However, every once in a while I crave fried cheese and it always takes me back to those good old days.

You can find this white cheese in your local supermarket or Latin bodega. Dominican white cheese is firm, salty and great for frying because its high in salt and made with acid which doesn’t allow it to easily melt like other cheeses. It’s similar in texture to feta but not as salty or crumbly. When it’s pan fried in a bit of oil a nice crust forms and the inside stays soft and gooey, perfect for sandwiches since it won’t fall apart or slide out.

I didn’t have any plantains (blasphemous for Dominicans) and really didn’t want to make an elaborate meal so I made the perfect spicy breakfast sandwich for dinner and it was so delicious!

This is a great vegetarian (Lacto-Ovo Vegetarians) option but if you want meat just add salchichon or bacon for a more filling meal.

1 jalapeno, sliced
1 large egg, over medium
1-2 slices of cheese, fried
toasted whole wheat english muffin
pinch of Adobo (pre-blended Spanish spice mix – optional)
vegetable oil

Saute a few jalapeno slices in a bit of butter on medium heat for about 1-2 minutes and remove from pan. Fry the egg in same pan with a bit of oil (2 tbsp) and add a pinch of Adobo. You can skip the Abodo if you’re watching your salt intake, since the cheese may be salty enough. You will want to fry the cheese last so it can be soft and hot when you eat it. Fry the cheese on one side for about a minute and flip over and fry the other side until a nice crust forms. Assemble all on a toasted whole wheat English muffin and dinner is served! Add as much jalapeno as you like to adjust the spiciness.

Meatless Mondays: Curry Chickpeas with Basmati Rice

The Meatless Mondays movement has been spreading like wildfire. Organizations across the country, corporations, schools, celebrities, chefs, and people from all walks of life are embracing the idea of going without meat at least one day a week.

I think a single day out of the week is pretty manageable and great for those wanting to make a change in their diets but don’t want to give up the foods they love. I don’t even buy much red meat anymore and have switched to mostly chicken and fish but once in a while I love a great steak. I also know for a fact that I could never give up bacon but definitely like the idea of going vegetarian a few times a month, just as long as it’s full of flavor, filling and easy to make.

I make this Curry Chickpea dish whenever I don’t have any meat in the freezer. It’s easy to make, hearty and incredibly tasty!

I learned how to make this dish from my old college roommate. We were always penny pinching back then so loved the idea of having another dish to make on a budget. All you need are a few spices, chickpeas and rice.

I’ve tweaked this recipe over the years now that I can afford to buy as many spices as I want but when I made this back then it was pretty basic. I would use milk instead of cream, tomatoes if I didn’t have tomato paste or use a combination of both. For me, the ginger, chiles and cilantro give this curry such a bold flavor. It’s a definite hit in my book.

I balance out the meal by serving the curry chickpeas over basmati rice, with a side of mango chutney and roasted papad. Papad is a thin Indian crisp and can be purchased from an Indian grocery store or marketplace. You can have it before your meal as an appetizer or just have it with a bit of chutney as a snack. The papads are roasted on stove top similar to how you would roast peppers.  It’s such a flavorful meal that you’ll forget you’re not eating meat!

Curry Chickpeas (Garbanzo beans) with Basmati Rice

small onion, diced
1 jalapeno, diced (or 1-2 Thai birds eye chiles)
3 tbsp of olive oil
1/2 tsp chili powder
1 tbsp curry powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp salt
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 heaping tbsp of tomato paste
1 cup of water
1 16oz can of Chickpeas (or 1 lb of dried chickpeas soaked overnight and cooked until soft)
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
2 tbsp of heavy cream (or 1/4 cup of yogurt for a lighter version)

1. Saute the onions in olive oil on medium heat until translucent. Add the jalapenos, coriander, chili powder, curry powder, ginger, bay leaves and salt and stir. Mix in the tomato paste and water to form a thick sauce.

2. Add the chickpeas, stir and then add the fresh cilantro and cream and stir some more. Lower heat and let beans cook for about 8-10 minutes. Add a bit more water if too dry and adjust the salt to taste.

Basmati Rice
1. While chickpeas are cooking, boil 2 cups of water on high heat in a separate pot and add 1 tsp of salt and 1 tbsp of olive oil.

2. Add 1 cup of rinsed basmati rice and stir. Let most of water boil off, turn heat down to low and cover pot. Let rice cook for about 15-20 minutes until light and fluffy.

When done, serve the curry chickpeas over rice and serve with a side salad, papad and mango chutney.