Caribbean stewed beans and seasoned cauliflower rice
Throughout my vegetarian life, rice and beans have brought me so much satisfaction and simple pleasure. Inexpensive, flavorful, versatile: all describe the black bean burrito bowls that powered my Southern California college adventures, aduki bean o-nigiri devoured during my time in Tokyo, and most beloved, the Caribbean-style seasoned rice and stewed beans that fueled me through my high school years on and eventual return to my home island of St. Croix. Thanks to the brilliant, nourishing culinary innovation that is cauliflower "rice," I don't have to miss this ultimate comfort food while enjoying the benefits of low-glycemic eating.
Like St. Croix itself, this dish is a fusion of styles both locally-cultivated and adopted from other islands and cultures. Unlike the milder rice and pigeon peas made in Jamaica and other islands, these beans are rich and saucy, served over boldly savory, bright-yellow rice. The Spanish thyme (whole leaves pictured as a garnish), which grows happily wild in the Caribbean, lends the dish its distinctive flavor. If unavailable, however, conventional thyme will suffice. (Gratitude to certain sweet friends who gifted my husband and me with our own Spanish thyme plant for our wedding.)
This particular recipe is an adaptation of my mom's, which is itself an adaptation of a Puerto Rican family friend's and influenced by the similarly rich Trinidadian-style stewed beans I enjoyed at work potlucks, school lunches, and St. Croix's fast food spots and food trucks. The cooking time for the beans is a bare minimum; I strongly recommend letting the beans stew for the better part of a day, allowing them to break down and release their creamy, delectable potential.
RECIPE: VLGL Caribbean Stewed Beans and Cauliflower Rice
☼ For the beans:
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1/4 diced, large red onion
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 1 cup soaked red beans (overnight soak is best; extend the cooking time by at least half an hour if employing a quick soak method)
- 1 cup cubed (1 inch x 1 inch) calabaza pumpkin, sugar pumpkin, or butternut squash
- 1 sliced red chili pepper
- 2 1/2 cups vegetable broth*
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 whole fresh Spanish thyme leaf or 2 sprigs of fresh thyme
☼ For the cauliflower rice:
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 4 cups riced cauliflower (approximately one large head, if starting from fresh; frozen cauliflower rice may also be used, though note the difference in method)
- 2 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp cumin powder
- 1/4 cup vegetable broth* (omit if using frozen cauliflower rice)
*For the vegetable broth, whether homemade or store-bought, use one that is primarily onion, carrot, and/or tomato-based, rather than one that is mushroom- or green vegetable-based. I like to use Better Than Bouillon's "No Chicken" flavor for this recipe.
☼ For the beans:
- In a heavy-bottomed stockpot, sauté the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until fragrant and slightly translucent. Add the garlic and sauté, stirring frequently, for two minutes or until it smells slightly toasted.
- Add the beans, pumpkin, and chili, and mix well. Pour in the broth and tomato paste, and add the whole bay and thyme leaves. Stir gently.
- Bring the mixture to a soft boil, stir, reduce the heat to low, and allow to simmer covered but with a small opening for steam to escape (such as a hole in the lid or with the lid slightly tilted) for at least 45 minutes.
☼For the cauliflower rice:
☀If using fresh cauliflower --
- Using a handled or box-style cheese grater with large ("soft cheese") holes, grate the head of raw cauliflower into rice-size pieces.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a sauté pan or skillet. Once a drop of water sizzles in the oil, add the cauliflower rice and all seasonings, and stir until evenly coated.
- Add the vegetable broth, stir well, turn the heat down to medium-low, and cover.
- Cook for approximately five minutes, stirring halfway through, or until the cauliflower rice is tender and cooked through.
☀If using frozen cauliflower --
- Thaw the frozen cauliflower according to package directions (whether microwave or stove).
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a sauté pan or skillet. Once a drop of water sizzles in the oil, add the cauliflower rice and all seasonings, and stir until evenly coated.
- Cook, stirring constantly (to release excess moisture and prevent soggy "rice"), until the cauliflower rice is fluffy and fragrant with spices.
I recommend enjoying these two together in one happy, messy bowl... but however you do it, always serve with love.