Sack Lunch: Mark Bittman's Red Beans and Rice Recipe

As a devoted user of How To Cook Everything, I’m always interested in bloggers’ strong opinions about Mark Bittman. I haven’t run into any anti-Bittman animus in a while, but every once in a while someone really lets him have it. HTCE and the Minimalist have at times led me astray with recipes that were disappointingly bland or didn’t quite work, but successes have far outnumbered failures.

This week I tried his curried rice noodles in hopes that they would make a good sack lunch. I’m afraid, however, that this is the kind of recipe that makes people turn against Bittman. The noodles were completely bland because the curry powder never really got integrated, and now I have a pot completely encrusted with cooked-on noodles. I probably should have used a bigger (10 quart?) pot and gotten it hotter, but I’m not going to try again to find out; the one thing I demand of his recipes is that they be idiot proof. In the meantime, for your lunch I propose one of my old Bittman favorites, red beans and rice.

I like the vegetarian version, so that’s what I’m adapting here. It’s filling, cheap, and healthy; in fact, I think it’s also the recipe that convinced me that cooking dried beans instead of using canned is not so scary. This is not Louisiana-style red beans and rice; the lack of meat and addition of coconut milk makes it different and very good. As far as I’m concerned, HTCE is about teaching you how to get dinner on the table, not how to knock people’s socks off (Bittman co-wrote the very good Simple to Spectacular for that), but thanks to the coconut milk I always feel like I’m getting a special treat when I eat these leftovers for lunch.

Recipe Facts



Total: 0 mins
Serves: 4 to 6 servings

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  • 2 cups kidney, pinto, or other beans, washed and picked over
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2 bell peppers, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder (or 4 or 5 sprigs thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 2 bay leaves, and 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice; I use chili powder)
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes (canned are fine; don’t bother to drain)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
  • 3 cups canned coconut milk, warmed
  • Chopped parsley or cilantro for garnish
  • Tabasco to taste


  1. Put the beans in a large pot with water to cover. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil; skim the foam if necessary. Cover loosely and cook at a gentle simmer, stirring very occasionally; add additional water if necessary.

  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and cook the garlic and vegetables over medium heat until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chili powder (or alternate spices) and stir. Add the tomatoes, turn the heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring, until the tomatoes break up, 10-15 minutes.

  3. When the beans are almost all the way cooked (after about an hour or an hour and 15 minutes; start checking frequently after 50 minutes, since much depends on your particular beans), stir the sautéed vegetables and tomatoes into the beans. Cook until the beans are cooked through and completely tender (keep tasting and checking; this is the secret of cooking beans, at least for me, not to quit until they’re done). Discard the bay leaves, if you used them, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

  4. Put 3 cups of the bean-vegetable mixture into another saucepan, one that can hold at least double their bulk comfortably. (You will probably have more than 3 cups of beans and vegetables; freeze the excess.) If the beans in the saucepan are swimming in liquid, cook them gently until they are moist but not inundated.

  5. Add the rice and warmed coconut milk to the beans and vegetables. Cover and turn the heat to low. Cook for about 20 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. If necessary, uncover and raise the heat to medium-high; cook, stirring, until the liquid is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with parsley or cilantro, and serve. A dash or two of Tabasco tastes very good with the coconut milk.