Rice and beans made from scratch is a great way to enjoy a nutritious meal while saving money on groceries. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Oliver

If you eat, you’ve noticed that food costs more. This global problem of supply chain shortages complicated by disrupted weather and war in other places, affects everyone. What to do?

Well, try beans and rice, which are traditionally a money-saving gambit for getting through tough times. Lest it sound dreary, take a look at this recipe for black beans cooked with onion and red or green pepper and cumin and paprika (or just plain chili powder) and optional add-ins like a little cooked sausage and a grating or two of cheese, such as cheddar or jack or, really, whatever you have.

This one recipe can accommodate omnivores, or vegetarians (if you leave out the sausage), or vegans (if you leave out the sausage and cheese). Of course omnivores might welcome a chance to save a couple bucks and leave out the meat and still have a good meal.

Any cooking from scratch will save you money. We had a vigorous kitchen debate at this house about home cooking versus convenience food. One party argued that someone working a 12-hour day might prefer to come home and eat or feed their family something out of a take-out container rather than stand in front of the kitchen stove for even a half hour. I agree that that represents a rather strong argument for convenience. We agreed that those folks had an excuse. Most convenience food eaters, however, aren’t in fact, working 12-hour days, and in fact, might be working longer hours in order to afford buying that convenience food.

In some way, figuring out how to live inexpensively might be a sport. I’m pretty certain my refusal to buy a bottle of orange juice made from concentrate when I could buy concentrate and add my own darn water has saved me a few bucks over the years. I’m not so hardcore that I am going to make my own corn chips, however.

Let’s walk this beans and rice dish through the kitchen to see just how much bother home cooking is.

You can use canned beans, which cost more than dried, or you can cheaply soak and cook them yourself. It takes a minute or two before bed to open a bag of dried black beans, measure out from one-half to 1 cup of dried beans (which will make from 2 to 3 cups cooked beans) and add water, enough to cover them. In the morning while you are eating your breakfast, bring the beans to a boil, then turn them down to cook until tender before you head out for the day, or turn them off to soak the rest of the day.

About half an hour before supper time, check to make sure the beans are tender, finish cooking them while you chop and cook up the onion and pepper and garlic, about five minutes. If you want sausage, break up a little ground sausage and fry it up with the onions and pepper — that’s about five minutes. Drain and add the beans to your fry pan and toss in the tomato paste. No tomato paste? A couple of spoonfuls of stewed tomatoes or, heck, a little ketchup. Why not, it’s red. Add the spices. Stir it around.

Mainly, don’t worry. You aren’t running a restaurant.

Now you have a choice. You can serve it on rice, or pile it into a taco shell, or fold it into a small flour tortilla or let folks put the mix into their soup bowl and scoop it out with tortilla chips.

Humankind has been cooking rice for millennia so we know it isn’t rocket science. Two cups of water, brought to a boil, one cup of rice added, brought to a boil, then turned down to steam away while you are working on the black beans. That takes about 20 minutes. You can also bring water to a boil, throw the rice in and boil until it is done, just like pasta. Drain it and rinse it with cold water.

Grate some cheese over the beans and rice, and run it under the broiler for a couple minutes.

If you choose rice, start it first before you mess around with the onion and pepper.

By the way, the recipe calls for half a pepper, but if you like peppers, use the whole darn thing. Or use the remaining half in your salad. Fresh red peppers are a little more costly than green so you can opt for the green, or leave peppers out.

Consider doubling the batch of beans and rice, which will not take twice the time to cook. Freeze half for a second meal — making your own fast food. Actually, do that anyway, just don’t forget you put it in the freezer.

This is an inexpensive, wicked flexible, easy-to-fix meal, and nutritious besides.  

Black Beans and Rice with or without Sausage and Cheese

Makes two to three servings

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

½ to 1 red or green pepper, chopped

1-2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 ounces of sausage meat (plain, spicy, chorizo) or more to taste, optional

1 14-ounce can of black beans or 1 cup of dried beans soaked overnight and cooked until tender

¼ cup tomato paste with ½ cup water, or ½ cup stewed tomatoes

1 teaspoon paprika

1 ½ teaspoons cumin

1 teaspoon chili powder, optional

Grated cheese, cheddar or jack

Cooked rice

Cook the chopped onion, pepper, and garlic in olive oil until soft, about five minutes.

Add and brown optional sausage.

Mix in the black beans.

Add the tomato paste and water, or the stewed tomatoes, and simmer for a while, about 10 minutes or until it thickens enough to spoon. It up.

Add the spices and stir together. Simmer another five minutes.

Serve on rice with a sprinkle of grated cheese, melted on the top.

Sandy Oliver, Taste Buds

Sandy Oliver Sandy is a freelance food writer with the column Taste Buds appearing weekly since 2006 in the Bangor Daily News, and regular columns in Maine Boats, Homes, and Harbors magazine and The Working...