Rice and Beans, Lightened Up

by in Meal Makeovers, June 18, 2009

Did you know combining rice and beans creates a perfect protein? Problem is, many folks sabotage this healthy dish by adding too much fat. Done right, rice and beans can be flavor-packed, quick-and-easy choice. Here is how we do it.

Traditional Rice and Beans
Rice and beans is a classic in Latin American and Caribbean cuisine. Some pep it up with their favorite spices and others add in pork or sausage for flavor — it varies from family to family, region to region. A typical serving of rice and beans contains around 340 calories, 19 grams of fat and 6 grams of saturated fat (if not more). Neither rice nor beans contain a significant amount of fat — so where does all the fat come from? Read on.

Rice and Bean-Lovers Beware!
Many of my Dominican clients tell me they flavor their rice and beans with pork of some sort — bacon and smoked sausage, both high in cholesterol and saturated fat, often take center stage.

Because there are so many versions of this dish, I vetted tons of recipes to find the most commonly added unhealthy ingredients. One recipe added loads of artery-clogging coconut milk (about a cup per serving), which is not unusual in Caribbean dishes. Others used canned pork-flavored beans or refried beans, which ups the fat immediately. Sometimes you’ll find too much cheese — a little bit is harmless and adds wonderful flavor but mind those portions.

The Rice
Use white or brown versions, whichever floats your boat. Of course, brown will boost the fiber but takes a bit longer to cook. For those brown rice virgins, start with a mix of brown and white rice. (I’ve done it a few times.) Cooking the rice in chicken stock also adds flavor without too many extra calories. Portions are especially important to keep calories in check — stick with about 1/2 cup of cooked rice per serving (about 100 calories).

The Beans
Beans are nutritional powerhouses — half a cup of canned or home-cooked black beans have about 114 calories and 7.5 grams of protein. This is a reasonable serving. Use red, black or whatever bean suits your fancy (I usually go for the black). Because many flavored canned beans have high amounts of sodium and fat, opt for the unflavored ones, or soak your own. This way you control the ingredients.

Bring on the Flavor
Herbs and spices are integral to making your rice and beans stand out from the rest. Try cilantro, oregano, or cayenne (Dana likes to add a pinch of cumin). Add some spice with a jalapeno pepper or a dash of hot sauce (my favorite!). A splash of flavored vinegars such white wine or cider, or a squeeze of fresh lime juice also works wonders.

And, of course, don’t forget the veggies. Purist might only want straight beans and rice, but peppers, onions, tomatoes and garlic are a low-cal way to bring out more flavor — and drop in some more nutrients. If you must add pork or sausage to your dish, go for turkey sausage or 1 to 2 slivers of bacon (just for taste).

[Photo: Picholine / Recipezaar]

TELL US: What’s a must-have for making your rice and beans the most flavorful?

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Comments (10)

  1. Susan W. says:

    I serve it with akee and salt fish. Cook small red beans and then cook some more with lite coconut milk added. (that's what makes the rice and beans look dirty) Then I cook the salt fish and ackee with tomatoes.

    You can find a good recipe in any JamaIcan Cookbook. I downloaded Simple Jamaican Cooking by Winsom Murphy, best $10 (or so) I've ever spent. It comes in .pdf format.

  2. shalini says:

    I soak beans overnight and then cook them for 10 -15 min. On other side saute cumin,garlic,onions and tomato puree n green chillies. When its done add it to beans .For flavour n color i add 1-2 cloves,corriander pd , turmeric pd.and indian garam masala.With this spicy beans plain rice with half teaspoon of butter(if u want) goes well. I also like plain yoghurt with it .

  3. narnetta says:

    I love black beans… i wash well, soak overnight then cook until their the firmness i like. I saute, red onion, small minced celery, carrot and zuchini in a small amount of olive oil i add this to my beans along with cumin (my favorite spice), tumeric, red pepper flakes and some dry oregano (mexican style). I normally use brown rice for the nutty flavor. I love my beans mixed with the black beans and a side salad for dinner…

  4. Manders says:

    My all time favorite recipe involves pork. I saute chunks of pork (in the same pan i just cooked bacon), add 2 jars of Sofrito (in the Mexican food aisle) & simmer for a few hours. In another saucepan I add the crumbled bacon, chopped green olives, and another jar of Sofrito. Combine all & add 2 cans rinsed red beans & serve over rice. I only have this a few times/year at the very most due to the unhealthy factor – but it is soooooo good. It used to be very difficult in my area to find Sofrito, but now it has made a comeback & I couldn't be happier!

  5. Debbie says:

    Red or black, I add lots of garlic and oregano and a little plain tomato sauce. I'll add Goya Sofrito, if I have it in the house and a little cumin and/or crushed red peppers. This combination makes my cuban boyfriend happy! Also, try some yellow rice, for a change. There are several brands on the store shelf.

  6. susuzannah says:

    how do you cook black eye beans? how do you cook collard greens? stewed tomatoes? Also can you freeze cabbage and califlower ? If so how to? thank you so much for your help and input. Have a blessed day!

  7. Livia Montalvo says:

    I cook beans the puertorrican style. On medium high heat cook a mix of (onions, green peppers, cilantro, culantro, sweet little peppers (all pureed in a foodprocessor) with one tbsp olive oil, add salt & pepper to taste, add few drops of annatto oil, add the canned pink beans (rinsed if you like). Add beef or chicken broth and cook for 20 minutes on medium low heat. Add one leave of culantro and a few leaves of cilantro. When finished cooking you may remove this leaves and discard. The cooked beand should have enough liquid to cover them not dry at all. Yum! Serve with white rice and any kind of meat; I use chicken a lot. It may be fried, baked or grilled with lots of spices, not hot spices.

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