Beans and Rice: A Recipe and a History

The easiest, simplest, most long-standing meal tradition in the OP household is that of beans and rice. Beans and rice is a classic Cuban meal, originating in my family from my Cuban great-grandparents who moved to America just before they had my grandmother. At the time of their move, Cuba was in a great state of turmoil and change. A revolution in 1933 sought to overturn the current dictator, and the country cycled through several leaders and governmental systems in the span of a few years afterwards. Growing up in America with Cuban parents, my Cuban-American grandma has incorporated both cuisines into many delicious traditions in my family. Dessert-wise, she makes the most amazing flan, stunning pecan pie, unbelievable tres leches cake, and perfect chocolate fudge. And I have her to thank for the tradition of a main course I practically grew up on: good ol’ beans and rice.

tostones (fried plantains) and beans and rice at a cuban restaurant in alphabet city

Beans and rice is a meal that is cheap, quick, and full of protein and nutrition for hungry little ones. I remember asking my dad to serve me only beans (avoiding peppers and onions) when I was young with a picky palate. Then, as an adolescent learning to love veggies, I would ask my mom to chop the peppers and onions into smaller, less noticeable pieces. And then I remember buying ingredients alone at my local Soho grocery store to cook beans and rice in my first kitchen in my sophomore dorm, astonished at how unsure I was about a recipe I had watched being made (and helped make) hundreds of times.

beans with yellow rice

In college, I served beans and rice to friends because it was the only thing I knew how to make. I served beans and rice to my roommate when I studied abroad in London, and I served beans and rice to my boyfriend, Luke, when we moved in together. Beans and rice is a meal that is constantly in rotation. After all, we almost always have rice, onions, peppers, garlic, and a can of black beaks around. Naturally, Luke started taking over the beans and rice cooking task on occasion, and he had his own ideas about the flavors and spices that would be best to include. Imagine my surprise when I came home to the heresy of Luke adjusting my age-old beans and rice recipe with cumin (!) and cayenne pepper!

I’m not one to complain about coming home from work to a hot, lovingly-prepared meal, though. So I tried his seemingly heretical creation and was surprised once again to find that it was actually quite tasty. In fact, in some ways I have updated the way I make my own beans and rice. I guess that’s the best thing about this dish – you can make it just how you like it in regards to flavors, spices, and heat. And if you have a picky eater at your table, you can dice the veggies like I used to demand. Check out the very customizable recipe below!

Print Recipe
Beans and Rice
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Cuban
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
REQUIRED ITEMS:
  • 1 cup uncooked rice (white or yellow)
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 bell pepper sliced
  • 1-2 clove(s) garlic minced
  • salt to taste
OPTIONAL FLAVORS:
  • lemon slices for serving
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tbs jalapeño minced
Course Main Dish
Cuisine Cuban
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Servings
Ingredients
REQUIRED ITEMS:
  • 1 cup uncooked rice (white or yellow)
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 bell pepper sliced
  • 1-2 clove(s) garlic minced
  • salt to taste
OPTIONAL FLAVORS:
  • lemon slices for serving
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tbs jalapeño minced
Instructions
  1. Prepare your rice according to the package directions. While the rice cooks, chop the vegetables.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the onions, peppers, garlic, and spices, and sauté around 5 minutes or until they look like you want to eat them (e.g., slightly softened but not mushy).
  3. Add the full can of black beans (do not drain or rinse!) to the saucepan and stir. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the mixture just starts to bubble.
  4. Serve the bean and veggie mixture over the cooked rice. Optionally squeeze the juice from a lemon slice over the top just before eating.
Recipe Notes

Can also be served with Spanish farro (see video above)!

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