11 February 2009

Beans and rice become finger food ...

... to peoples outside of India. In India, of course, we eat with our fingers, rather than spoons and forks, and we relish the task of scooping up the perfect quantities of rice, lentils, and pickles in one mouthful, to be followed by a swift bite of fresh green chile (for heat), and a bit of lemony cold salad (usually, cucumber, tomato, and onion, in any combination or separately). Then, in goes a bit of dry cooked vegetable with a bit of rice. Then goes some stewed veg with the rice. And on and on it goes, until the meal is finished, and the plate is clean, and all of the rice is finished. We do not waste rice. It's too important a part of our lives.

In the US and Europe, however, eating rice with one's fingers seems a bit out of place, and is difficult to do on the go. Enter hand-held beans and rice. This isn't quite a recipe, because I haven't really seen it before, but I had some leftover brown rice, and cooked brown lentils in the fridge. If you don't have cooked lentils, feel free to use a tin of black beans. It'll work just fine. However, I do caution you that my lentils are very well spiced, so if you're going to make this, make a point of adding extra spices, like cumin or coriander powder (or both!), a bit of cilantro or parsley, some grated ginger, some minced garlic, or whatever else you like. Because my lentils already had those spices in it, I didn't bother with adding them.

3 cups cooked brown rice
1 1/2 cups cooked beans, drained
spices of your choice
2 cloves minced garlic
Chopped green chiles, or chile flakes (optional)
1 TB oil, or spray of oil. Use vegetable oil. Olive oil would taste weird, I think.
Salt, to taste

Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Spread the oil on a baking sheet, and set the sheet on your counter. In a large bowl, dump in the rice. With a potato masher or wooden spoon or your hands, mash up the rice. It helps to have a good solid potato masher, because it will make short work of that mound of brown rice.

Drain the beans of their liquid, to the best of your ability. This works best when the beans are drained, because otherwise, the final product won't stay together so well. Mash the beans and rice together. Add in the spices of your choice, salt, the chiles, and the garlic. Mix it well with a spoon, the masher, or your hands.

Split the mass into balls about the size of your palms, and splat them down on the baking sheet. Don't worry about neatness. It's not going to be too terribly firm when you get started, but that's sort of the point. Bake at 375ºF for about 15 minutes. Remove the baking tray from the oven, and flip the rice balls over with a spatula. Feel free to smash them down slightly, to make them thinner, if you'd like. This will give a more crispy texture to the outside. Continue baking for another 15 minutes. By now, you should hear the rice sizzling nicely. This is a good thing.

Finally, if you want to, set the baking sheet under the broiler for a couple of minutes to get the tops browned nicely. It took about 2 minutes under my broiler.

These are excellent on their own, or as a vehicle for your favourite salad to go on top. I used the recipe for Beet Salad of Doom that I came up with a few days ago. The good part is that I managed to clear out my leftovers. The bad part is that my husband loved it so much that I don't have any more cooked brown rice or beet salad. Boo.

This is also an excellent way to sneak in some grated vegetables of your choice. Carrots would be excellent, as would cabbage. I wouldn't do potatoes, because I'd be nervous that they wouldn't cook up completely, but feel free to experiment. If the rice balls are too firm when you are forming them, add a bit of the bean liquid, or a bit of water. You want them to form a shape, but only a loose shape in the beginning. The extra liquid makes the rice more tender as it bakes.

The best part about this is that you can have beans and rice as a snack, and eat it with your fingers with no problem at all. They'd also make really cute little nibbles for a party, wherein you don't use full on cutlery, and just have people milling about, having bites of every little thing.