Coconut Rice with Lentils

Food for the Soul (and the Stomach)

Tell us about your favorite meal, either to eat or to prepare. Does it just taste great, or does it have other associations?

Arroz con coco y lentejas 2

Rice.
When people think of rice, they picture
a dish of white grains. Ah the rice I
grew up on rarely made it to the table
unadorned and without a companion, which
was some sort of bean. The beans were
interchangeable, a revolving parade of
red beans, split peas, white lima beans,
gungo peas, black eye peas and lentils.

Rice,
to my childhood dismay, was a constant.
Why couldn’t we have American food, like
mac and cheese, meat and potatoes or the
exotic sounding casserole. I didn’t know
what a casserole was and still don’t
really, but it seemed like everyone made
and ate this dish.

Rice
and beans were a staple. They are a
staple in many Latin American and
Caribbean countries I think because
beans are a great and affordable
protein. Meat is an expensive luxury
for a family trying to make ends meet
and bought for special occasions.

Rice
and beans were an inseparable pair.
It’s misleading to say rice and beans
because it was more like rice in beans.
We didn’t eat rice with beans on top.
Our rice and peas, yes rice and peas
because we referred to all our beans
as peas, son mezclados, mixed.

Rice
and peas. It is simple to eat, but not
so simple to make. You boil the daily
“peas” in water and when they are
half-way soft, you put in the rice. This
way of making rice and peas requires
skill. You have to balance two headstrong
and vastly different foods without
making either outshine the other.

Rice
is a high maintenance crop. Beans are
are less so. The rice is refined, while
the bean is more common. Both are proud.
Neither can bare to be diminished by
turning to mush in the other’s presence.
A skilled cook understands this, but
knows that each has to bend a little to
make the pairing successful. The rice
comes down to earth a bit, becoming
browned in the process, while the bean
softens, becoming more refined in the
rice’s presence. A good rice and peas dish
is when both are in sync.

Arroz
con coco y lentejas is one of my favorite
plates to eat. Coconut rice with lentils
is a dish you encounter in someone’s home.
I have yet to see it on a menu. You eat
it with baked chicken leg and a side of
fried ripe plaintains. Many people eat
this in Latin America and the Caribbean.
If you’re interested, check out the recipe for
Arroz con coco y lentejas. It’ll take you  to
mycolombianrecipes.com. Enjoy!

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