Long before Dave Ramsey advocated a beans and rice diet as a way to save money for paying off debt, my mother was crafting beans and rice dishes that provided memorable meals on my family’s limited income.
This was not your basic austerity fare mind you. With spices, vegetables, and a little meat for flavoring she could turn your basic beans and rices into culinary masterpieces – butter beans and rice that melted on your tongue and black-eyed peas and rice teeming with down home smokey goodness.
As a poor graduate student, beans and rice became my dietary staple – particularly Campbells Pork-N-Beans thrown over some white rice. While not my mothers culinary treat, beans and rice kept me well nourished at a price in line with my meager income. Besides they tasted better than the alternative – Ramen noodles.
In today’s tough economic environment people are finding that beans and rice are not only a more economical alternative to meat based dishes, but beans and rice carry significant health benefits as well.
Consider this. Your body absolutely depends on small molecules called amino acids. These amino acids are stringed together to create the proteins that build bones, muscle, blood, skin, and other crucial biological tissues.
Your body can make 11 of the 20 naturally occurring biological amino acids on its own. The other nine essential amino acids your body must obtain from your diet.
Animal products such as beef, chicken, turkey, and fish provide us with all nine of the essential amino acids. Yet being a complete source of all the essential amino acids comes at a price.
While meat provides all the amino acids we need, meat is one of the most expensive sources of nourishment on the entire planet. Even the cheapest cuts of meat can cost well over $2.75 a pound – making meat two to three times as expensive as beans and rice.
This doesn’t even mention the high environmental costs of producing meat. Reports vary widely, but between 4.8 and 16 pounds of grain are needed to produce just one pound of meat. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, animal waste from industrial farming is one of the leading causes of pollution of American waterways.
More importantly, many cuts of meat contain high levels of artery clogging cholesterol, not to mention antibiotics used in raising the animal sources.
Beans provide some of the essential amino acids we need, but not all. Similarly grains such as rice offer some essential amino acids but not all of them. When combined, however, beans and rice provide us with all the amino acids that the human body needs. In essence, beans combined with rice gives us the same nutritional value as meat, at a fraction of the cost.
Yet the benefits don’t end there. Beans are chock full of fiber and research studies have shown that diets rich in beans lower cholesterol levels. A US Department of Agriculture study, for example, revealed that eating as little as one-half cup of cooked dry beans every day helped volunteers lower their total cholesterol levels. The high fiber content of beans also helps smoothen sharp rises in blood sugar making beans a great food for diabetics.
If that wasn’t enough, surprisingly beans have been found to have high levels of anti-oxidants as well. In fact, according to the USDA they are one of the foods with the highest levels of such anti-oxidants.
Best of all, beans and rice are dirt cheap. At a local Chicago supermarket a one pound bag of black beans will set you back $1.39, or a measly 11.6 cents per serving! Canned beans are a little more expensive. A can of black beans will set you back the same $1.39 but provide you with only three servings at a cost of 46 cents per serving – still a bargain!
Likewise, a ten pound bag of white rice will cost you the super low price of 8.7 cents per serving. Even more elegant types of rice like Jasmine rice will cost you a still bargain basement price of 25 cents per serving.
This fact has not been lost on much of the world where meat is prohibitively expensive. In fact, a variation of beans and rice is a common theme among many ethnic fares.
But beans and rice dishes can be far more than austerity meals. Again, most of the world relies on beans and rice as a staple of their diets but have developed exciting and creative ways to turn these simple ingredients into a culinary treat (much like my mother). It doesn’t take much to jazz up a batch of beans and rice.
The beauty is that you can create unique flavor combinations simply by combining different varieties of rice with your choice of bean. Basmati rice, jasmine rice, brown rice, wild rice, and white rice can be mix and matched with a wide variety of beans, from black-eyed beans to pinto beans. The combinations are endless.
Add some pep to your dishes. Preparing your rice in vegetable stock instead of plain water adds incredible flavor. Harvest the power of spices and herbs to enhance the flavor of your meals. A little cumin, cilantro, oregano, garlic, or thyme will add new richness to your dish.
Like my mother, you can add even more flavor to your meal with onions, peppers, celery, and other diced vegetables. Soon your family wont realize that you’ve created a delicious meal at a such a frugal rock bottom price.
If you want to go even further consider adding meat to your beans and rice. Yes it will be a little more expensive but the key is to add the meat in a way that accents and adds flavor to the meal instead of being the main component. In this way you use much less meat, saving you money over a more traditional family meal and helping the environment at the same time.
Italian sausage, ham hocks, and chicken slices all provide extra kick to your beans and rice. Yes a little less healthy but remember you are using the meat in moderation as an accent and flavor agent.
New to beans and rice, check out some of these recipes:
The International Vegetarian Union has a basic but great tasting Black Beans and Rice recipe.
Desipes offers a spicy but easy to make Indian Beans and Rice recipe.
Meanwhile, About.com offers up a Carribean Red Beans and Rice dish.
Like the taste of meat with your beans and rice then consider,
RecipeZaar offers up a Creole Beans and Rice recipe. Remember you can always cut down the amount of meat you use in the recipe.
AllRecipes features a spicy Black Eyed Peas and Rice recipe.