Sack Lunch: Black Beans and Rice

  • Yield:4 generous servings
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Cuban Black Beans and Rice inspiration? Best Of 'Sack Lunch' This Week's 'Tasty 10'

My boss used to tease me when I would bring black beans and rice to work for lunch. He thought, as far as I can tell, that this was my subtle way of asking for a raise, but I had no ulterior motives: I am devoted to beans and rice. Make a big pot on Sunday and you have a remarkably healthy, sustaining lunch set for the week. Long ago, when cooking my own beans seemed like too much of a challenge, I enjoyed Zatarain’s black beans and rice; since then I’ve experimented with many different recipes and have come to enjoy boiling up a bag of beans myself (it makes me feel rather smugly frugal, perhaps a little more self-satisfied than is absolutely attractive, but that is the price we sometimes pay as cooks). Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe for Costa Rican Gallo Pinto (“Spotted Rooster”) has had my eye for some time, and last week I finally tried it.

This dish is usually eaten for breakfast in Costa Rica, with, she says, scrambled eggs, corn tortillas, and hot sauce, but to most Americans it will not seem at all breakfast-y without those additions. It isn’t spicy or heavily flavored; you might find that soothing, or you might want to add a little salsa, a dash of Tabasco, a sprinkle of cheese, or even a spoonful of plain yogurt for richness. I like it plain or with extras, and if I have the energy I cook some kale to eat on the side. Even without greens, though, and even if you’re stuck eating at your desk in front of your computer, this bowl of beans and rice makes a satisfying lunch. It never happened for me, but if your midday display of thrift and diligence leads to a raise for you, all the better. If, like mine, your boss just teases, splurge on a mango for comfort; it will taste especially sweet and juicy after the solid beans and rice.

About the author: Robin Bellinger recently escaped a career in book publishing, which was really cutting into her cooking time. Now she is a freelance editor and can bake bread on Tuesday afternoon if she feels like it. She lives in midtown Manhattan with her husband and blogs about cooking and crafting at home*economics.


    • 2 cups (12 ounces) dried black beans, picked over, washed, and drained
    • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped
    • 1 large red or green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped into 1/4-inch dice, divided (this should be at le


  1. 1.

    Soak the beans overnight in water to cover by 5 inches. Alternatively, you could put the beans in a pot with the same amount of water, bring to a boil, and boil hard for 2 minutes; then cover, turn off the heat, and let the pot sit, covered, for 1 hour. I never soak beans overnight, always using the second method instead.

  2. 2.

    Drain the beans and put them in a large pot with 8 3/4 cups fresh water. Add the garlic, half of the diced pepper, and 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro. Bring to a boil. Cover partially, adjust heat so the liquid simmers quite gently, and cook until the beans are fairly tender (she says 1 1/2 hours; my beans were practically edible after 1 hour, so I went ahead then). Stir in 2 teaspoons salt and cook another 15 minutes, until the beans are very tender. Drain the beans.

  3. 3.

    Put the oil in a pot or skillet large enough to hold all the ingredients and set over medium high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and remaining bell pepper. Stir and fry until the onion is translucent, turning the heat down if it begins to brown. Add the remaining cilantro (about 1/2 cup) and stir for a minute; then add the beans. Stir for 2 minutes, breaking up any clumps, and then add the rice. Stir to break up clumps of rice. Add salt and pepper to taste and continue to stir and fry until the rice and beans are heated through.

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