Surprise Signature

I'm a big fan of black beans and rice, a classic combination. But if I'm a fan of them, sometimes I forget that that makes Julia a superfan. So much so that when I whipped up a variation on the classic the other day, she was so thrilled she adorned it the best dish I've ever made. I think she was just hungry for dinner, as my other dishes scoff at the thought of this classic superseding their more complex natures. But hey, she could be right. Sometimes simple can be sweetest.

For the rice, I combined one cup of long grain rice with two cups of low sodium vegetable stock. To the stock I added a tiny bit of sea salt, a few generous shakes of black pepper, a few big drops of hot sauce, about a tablespoon of canola oil and a couple tablespoons of thick, dark balsamic vinegar. I let this come to a light boil and then turned the heat to low and covered the rice until the liquid was gone. This was about 22 minutes, but varies by the rice.

In the meantime, I made the beans. I opened up a can of low sodium black beans and drained off most of the liquid in the sink. I put the beans into a small saucepan over low to medium heat. I added a little salt, a lot of black pepper, a few shakes of cumin, a glug of canola oil and a few teaspoons of red wine vinegar. Lastly I added about a half-cup of some nice fire-roasted tomato salsa that I had in the fridge. I wanted the beans and sauce to be a dark, rich, tomato base and the salsa helped to accomplish this with its deep flavors mixing with the excess liquid from the beans. I let this mixture warm over about ten minutes, stirring often, until it was thick and bubbly and smelling tremendous.

As the rice and beans were finishing separately, I chopped four small Campari tomatoes, a quarter of a large, red onion and a small handful of fresh cilantro. When the rice was done, I mixed in this fresh element to add some crispness and tang to the overall flavor. Then I slowly mixed in the beans and sauce to the well-flavored rice – ever so slightly spicy from the hot sauce but rich from the balsamic. The beans really deepened the flavor further as I mixed the two together until it actually looked like the real thing. The fresh element really made the look of the dish pop, and I loved that.

I served the beans and rice with a little nonfat Greek yogurt atop, though sour cream would have worked if I were feeling more indulgent. I also made up a handful of fresh, baked corn chips per person, by baking some quartered corn tortillas (with a drizzle of olive oil) at 425 degrees in the oven for 8-10 minutes. You’ve got to watch them though, as they will burn quickly if left in too long.

The dish was quite simply tasty – like comfort food loaded with a lot of interesting flavor and not unhealthy much at all. The play of the various spicy elements with the tangy elements really made the flavor exciting and just sizzle with each bite. I was proud of the dish and it was really quite easy, but Julia's reaction was still a little surprising. I guess me caring about each element that I added to the dish, made the flavors really work, and it must have come through, even to someone who eats my food the most often. If it's really that good, this could be the most unassuming signature dish I've ever discovered. Leave it to my superfan to know me better than I do.

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