PCF Recipe Club: Beans and Rice
We want to take this moment to thank everyone who has been a part of the Prostate Cancer Foundation recipe club. For 5 years, we’ve been sending out easy, healthy dishes for you to try at home. And we’re going to keep doing so, for many years to come.
But times have changed, and we know more about how eating has the potential to influence chronic disease, both positively and negatively. We’re scientists here at PCF, and we’re starting a new series to help you approach cooking with more common sense, science, and personal flair than ever before.
To kick off 2020, we’re going to start with something that may sound like the most basic, boring dish ever: beans and rice.
For centuries, modern and ancient cultures have concocted many forms of this rustic food. Some form of beans and rice is eaten in India (dal), Cuba (arroz congri), Iraq (mujaddara), Brazil (feijoada), Nepal (dahl bhat), Mexico (arroz con frijoles), Peru (tacu tacu), Italy (paniscia di Novara), and Tanzania (ugali), to name a just a few. Many of these cultures have an affinity to rice and beans, as this dynamic duo has become a staple of the dinner table as well as the national culture.
The addition of various spices and flavors has the power to transport one simple dish across continents. In Nepal, it’s a Himalayan herb called timmur, in Latin America, it’s chiles, and in Cuba, it’s garlic and coconut that give beans and rice their distinctive taste. Meanwhile, Brazilians add pork to black beans for the smoky flavor of feijoada, while people of Peru use the paste of the aji amarillo pepper along with rice and refried beans to create the simple and savory tacu tacu. Simple, but timeless, rice and beans is one of the few dishes that spans continents and cultures.
At PCF we’re interested in this dish for reasons beyond just its good taste and versatility. Beans and rice together make a complete protein, are high in fiber, micronutrients, antioxidants, and are a cost-effective meal for anyone on a budget.
Beans are part of a diverse family of flowering plants called Fabaceae. Legumes are the fruit of the Fabaceae, and beans are just one of the many legumes that stem from this family of plants. Other prominent legumes include chickpeas, soybeans, and lentils. Legumes are a well-known source of dietary fiber and protein, but also contain compounds called flavonoids. These nutrients are not only responsible for the color of the plants, but are important antioxidants with many purported benefits. Researchers have associated flavonoids with anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties.
Any legume can be used in beans and rice, as well as any grain. Each bean and grain proffers slightly different nutritional value. Here are just two examples:
Lentils vs. black beans – Lentils have an extra 2 ½ g of protein per serving (18% more) and upwards of 50% more fiber. They contain similar amounts of calories, carbohydrates, and fat. Black beans have twice as much methionine, the most difficult amino acid to get from plant-based foods, as lentils (vegans, take note). Both have high antioxidant content, but lentils have more iron, potassium, and zinc.
Brown vs. Wild rice – Wild rice is actually a grass found in the fresh waters of North America. It has less calories, more protein, more fiber, and more minerals. However, for those with bone density issues, you should consider using brown rice, which has more manganese and calcium.
Here’s the recipe: Beans & Rice Pot (with chicken optional)
- One cup of dried green lentils
- Two cups of dried wild rice
- One chicken breast
- One or two tablespoons of olive oil
- One tablespoon of butter
- Two carrots, finely chopped
- Two celery stalks, finely chopped
- One onion, finely chopped
- 8-9 cups of water
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon each olive oil and butter over medium-high heat. Add vegetables. Stir occasionally for about 10 minutes, allowing some browning.
- Optional: Move the vegetables to edges of the pan, making a hole in the middle like a donut. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place the chicken breast in the middle and sear on each side, about 1 minute.
- Add the dried lentils and wild rice and stir vigorously for about 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper.
- Add enough water to cover the whole mixture by ½ inch. Bring to a boil.
- Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 35-40 minutes. Remove the chicken breast and cut or flake it into small pieces. Return the chicken to the pot, stir and serve.
Yield: About 9 1½ cup servings
Food Lab: What happens when we change it up?
- Add… chopped tomato on top -> more fiber, vitamin c, lycopene, potassium
- Add… chopped avocado on top -> more good fat (monosaturated fatty acid), vitamin K, folate, fiber
- Add… chopped almonds on top -> more protein, fiber, good fat, vitamin E
- Change… celery to kale -> kale has more antioxidants, 4x protein, 8x iron, less sodium, more minerals (iron, calcium, magnesium, copper, zinc), and folate
- Change… carrots to sweet potatoes -> not much changes! Both have beta carotene that converts to vitamin A. Sweet potato has more anthocyanins (a type of antioxidant), and more carbohydrates. Carrots have more polyacetylenes (compounds that are currently being studied for their anti-inflammatory potential)
- Change… lentils to black beans -> See above for lentils vs. black beans!
- Subtract… butter -> less fat (mostly saturated fat), calories, cholesterol, and vitamin A (though not a significant amount of any of these, spread over 8-10 servings), and slightly less flavor (fat transfers flavor and odor chemicals, both of which are involved in taste)
- Subtract… chicken -> less protein, calories, B-complex vitamins, and fat
- Subtract… carrots and celery -> you would think less fiber, but not much (most of the fiber is in the beans & grains)! But less minerals, antioxidants, and beta carotene
To learn more about healthy eating and lifestyle, download our wellness guide, The Science of Living Well, Beyond Cancer.