The September 2019 Recipe
Lisa Mason’s Spicy California Rice
This is another recipe particularly satisfying for dinner on a chilly winter night, but the dish is good anytime of the year when you want to serve you and your family a nutritious dish with a Mexican flair. I used to call the dish “Mexican Rice,” but Mexican-inspired dishes have, I think, evolved into California cuisine. At our excellent local Mexican restaurant, for example, the menu makes a point that they don’t use lard—long a staple of Mexican cooking. And our veggie-centric dishes would be a novelty in traditional Mexican cuisine, which depends heavily on meat and corn tortillas.
By the way, as always, you can add a tablespoon more of olive oil to the recipe, if you want added fat (fat enhances taste, as all cooks know), or add ground turkey or even ground beef—already cooked, please—if you want meat.
But why would you want to?
In her landmark 1973 book, Diet for a Small Planet, Frances Moore Lappé presents a meticulous argument that meat doesn’t actually contain as much “usable protein” or “complete protein” as people suppose and that bean, vegetable and grain (and sometimes dairy) combinations do the job equally well. Your body does need protein (less protein as you grow older) and usable protein is what your body can metabolize to fuel you.
Think of the classic peanut butter on bread (I hope you’ll transition to whole wheat bread and skip the sugary jelly). The reason this simple meal is satisfying and nourishing is that peanuts and wheat form a complete protein. Eat your sandwich with milk (fat-free milk, if you don’t have a lactose intolerance) and you’re good to go.
Brown rice and beans (kidney, pinto, or black beans) in particular provide a complete protein which is just as good as meat without the bad saturated fat and with the good fiber and vitamins.
I was a teenager when Lappé’s book was published but I quickly discovered it when I went off to college and got out of my mother’s meat-centric kitchen. There weren’t a lot of good vegetarian options then—except cheese and whole wheat bread—and I was skeptical of, and didn’t know how to cook, beans. Like a lot of people who have long eaten meat and haven’t transitioned to beans, legumes at first can cause digestive distress. Trust me, when you ease the meat out of your diet and eat more beans, your system will adjust and you can eat beans freely without embarrassing social consequences (you know what I mean).
On that happy note, let’s begin with Lisa Mason’s Spicy California Rice.
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