Chef Emily Cook on family, food and joy
When I first left home to move to Chicago, my mother armed me with a few recipes that were nutritious and easy to make. She had already taught me the basics of how to bake, how to sauté, how to season and how to love food. Her recipes remind me of my family and of who I am. That’s the power of food.
For me, there is no other recipe in my repertoire that expresses this powerful notion more deeply than the humble Black Beans and Rice. It was one of the first dishes that I ever learned to make. I grew up in Brazil where this simple dish is a mainstay on tables – a dish steeped in history, built on necessity and nutrition, and grounded by love and family. To this day, I still make it at least once a week. It’s delicious, nutritious, and reminds me of where I came from. It centers me.
My brothers and I were so lucky to have a mother who made dinner six nights a week. I recall she would clip recipes out of magazines, newspapers, and even packages for butter or biscuit mix. She would swap recipes with friends and neighbors on cute hand-written index cards. And she’d tape or glue these recipes into a 3-ring binder on yellowing pages, where they could be categorized for easy access.
One year not too long ago, my mom made copies of this tattered heirloom and gave them as gifts to my brothers and me. In the past few weeks, I have been poring over this binder. Her recipes have induced mouth-watering memories of casseroles, pie doughs and – among other delights – simplified salads that can be scaled for two people to 200.
As the COVID-19 crisis continues, I’ve read so many stories about how families are finding their way back into the kitchen together. For me and my family, we start by turning off our screens and setting the table. We turn on some music and talk about how we’re feeling. Our meals are simple and humble. We eat less and share more with our neighbors. My gratitude is through the roof.
I share with you my simple recipe for Black Beans and Rice. My version has bacon, but it can easily be made vegan. You can add other vegetables, some leftover chicken or anything else that you may have around. It is steeped in memories for me. My prayer for you: May you be able to create joyful memories at the dinner table with your family during this difficult time.
All my best, Chef Emily.
Black Beans and Rice
- 1 cup brown rice, rinsed
- 4 slices bacon (turkey or pork), cut into 1” pieces *(see Note below)
- 1 small onion, medium dice
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
- 1 cup vegetable stock or water
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- 1 Tbsp. chili powder
- 1 tsp. ground black pepper
- 1 can black beans, rinsed
- 1 tsp. hot sauce, or more to taste
- To cook rice: Bring approximately 6 cups of water to a full rolling boil in a pot. Add rinsed rice to the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes or until tender. Drain off excess water and return rice to the pot. Cover with a lid and allow to rest for about 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and reserve until ready to serve.
- Meanwhile, prepare the beans. In a 12” cast iron pan over medium heat, begin to cook the bacon, careful not to burn it. Once it has rendered off about 1-2 tablespoons of fat, add the onions and cook until they have begun to soften. *NOTE: If using turkey bacon or no meat at all, you will need to add about 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil at this point.
- Turn the heat down to low and add the garlic, stirring until it is fragrant. Add the flour and cook for about 3 minutes or until no longer raw.
- Add the vegetable stock and bring back up to a boil. The sauce will begin to thicken. Add the salt, chili powder, and black pepper and stir. Add the rinsed beans and season with hot sauce as needed.
- Serve over rice and garnish with minced parsley or green onions.