Monday, May 5, 2014

Because it's Cinco de Mayo: Mexican Rice and Beans

I made a joke on twitter a couple weeks ago about how much Mexican rice and beans we eat, and I was surprised to see that quite a few of you had requested the recipes. Most weeks, I make a big pot of each and they end up being our filler meals. The two side courses actually make a great dinner on days when I barely have time to do anything besides stick a couple of bowls in our microwave. I also use the beans to assemble mini burritos to pack in Cheech's lunchbox for school, and the rice topped with a fried egg is one of my favorite breakfast options. They're both even great for adding to soups, together or separately, when I'm making some sort of kitchen sink version (try subbing Mexican rice in your chicken an rice soup the next time you make it; it's a nice twist). And I don't know if it's because 2/3 of this family has Mexican roots, but we surprisingly never tire of either dish.

Mexican rice, as most people are familiar with it, is white rice that is cooked in broth (typically chicken) with onions, garlic and tomatoes. Cumin can even be added if cumin is your thing. Traditionally, this kind is served in Northern Mexico (where my family hails from), and plain white rice is served in Southern Mexico. Also, it's obviously not called Mexican rice in Mexico. It's either referred to as sopa de arroz, or simply, sopa. There are a variety of ways to prepare sopa, including making broth-y versions and/or using fresh tomatoes. Although I really enjoy a broth-y sopa, I find that most people prefer it on the drier side, which is the result the recipe below will give you. I also never use fresh tomatoes. Partly because fresh tomatoes suck for most of the year, and partly because I like my sopa better without tomato chunks in it. 

Refried beans, which are more typical of Tex-Mex cuisine, aren't often served in traditional Mexican fare. However, since I am Mexican-American, I grew up probably eating more refried beans than the more common frijoles de la olla. And if you find yourself in Mexico with an order of the classic variety, you'll end up with something resembling a very smooth and dry pinto or black bean paste. My version is soupier and made up of pinto beans that are cooked in salted water with onion and garlic, and then fried and mashed with chorizo in chorizo fat (lard is more often used). Also, contrary to what many people think, there is no double or re-frying involved. Adding the prefix "re" to a word in Spanish is simply a way of adding emphasis. So if you happen to live in the Bay Area, refrito basically translates to "hella fried".

Mexican Rice

1 1/2 c. of dry long grain white rice, rinsed 
1/2 of one yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 c. of tomato sauce
1/2 tsp. of ground cumin (optional)
chicken broth (sub for water and use the measurement given in the directions of your package of rice)
small handful of cilantro stems
olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. of salt

Sweat your onions and garlic in some olive oil. Add your rice and sauté until it becomes fragrant (roughly 1-2 minutes). Pour in the tomato sauce and broth, making sure all the rice is submerged.  Add cumin (if using), salt, and cilantro stems. Once liquids start to boil, lower heat to a simmer and put a lid on your pan. Follow the cooking time given on your package. Once the time is up, turn your burner off and let the rice continue to steam in the pan with the lid on for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the bulk of the cilantro stems (whatever hasn't turned to complete mush), and fluff with a fork and serve.

Refried Beans

1 1/2 c. of pinto beans (no need to soak)
7 c. of water
1/4 of a white or yellow onion
2 smashed cloves of garlic
1/4 lb. of mexican chorizo

Add your beans to a pot of water along with the 1/4 onion, 2 cloves of garlic, and a healthy dose of salt. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Top with a lid and cook on low heat until beans are tender (this will take about 2 1/2-3 hours). Once the beans are cooked, brown your chorizo in a fry pan. Drain your beans, making sure to reserved the liquid. Add your beans, onion, and garlic to the fry pan along with a 1-2 cups of the reserved liquid. Start mashing everything together with a potato masher while keeping the pan on medium-high heat. The longer you mash, the smoother and drier your refried beans will be. If they start to look too dry, add more of the reserved bean liquid (whatever is left can be disposed of). Salt to taste and serve.

Note: Both of these recipes yield a good 6-8 servings each, and they'll keep in your fridge about 5 days.


  1. This looks great and easy; I'll make it tonight!

  2. You have to (as in, you're morally obligated to) make this for Erin one night. Mexican beans & rice are two of her favorite foods on the planet.