I first learned how to make rice and beans in 5th grade. I can remember being lucky enough to be part of the select few who were invited to our Spanish teacher’s classroom during lunch break to enjoy a meal of her specialty rice and beans. Why me? Because her daughter was in my grade and we were friends :). In fact we are still friends and she has a beautiful little boy who I can only imagine will enjoy lots of amazing Argentinean inspired food. But back to this meal. Her mom, Graciela, shared her recipe with me and I can still remember it to this day. Of course as I started exploring my own food interests I have modified the recipe to suit me, but I use the same model adding seasoning to both the rice and beans. This is the first time I’ve added meat to the dish, ever, and it was a perfect addition!
So why with a touch of Panama? When Josh and I were there for two months we of course used the local spices and one we became familiar with was achiote. You add the achiote seeds to some heated oil and once all the flavoring/color is off you scoop them out leaving you with a spice infused oil. The trees grew locally all throughout the town, and we were lucky enough to enjoy this spice freshly picked! So what is achiote? Achiote (Bixa orellana) is a shrub or small tree from the tropical region of the Americas. The inedible fruit is harvested for its seeds, which contain annatto. When we asked the locals about this spice we continually were given a one-word-response: carne. Josh and I were still pescetarians*, at first anyway, and once we started to taste a bit, I definitely wasn’t going to cook any, so it isn’t until now that I will explore it’s potential with meat. I have looked numerous times at the grocery store for this spice with no such luck. So this past weekend we made a trip to the Mexi-Mart where we found achiote paste. I’m not sure what else is added to the paste besides the ground seeds, water, and oil, but the flavor was spot on so I don’t think it was cut with other seasonings as most are. It is slightly bitter with an earthy flavor and russet color. I don’t know anything similar to compare it too but trust me there is definite potential with this spice.
* I do have a reason for using this obnoxious word. I want to be clear I have never stopped eating fish, especially while living on the coast of Panama!!
The main Panamanian dish it is used in (where we were) is Bistec Picado con Papas o Patacones. Normally this would run you about $3.00. I ordered this towards the end of our stay and it was good but once was enough for me. I haven’t looked at this picture in awhile and it’s left me speechless, literally. So off to the cooking…
Beans & Rice
- Applegate fire roasted red pepper sausage, 2 links
- 25 oz. can black beans
- jasmine rice, 1 1/2 c uncooked
- Better Than Bullion chicken base
- olive oil
- Prep veggies.. Choyote: peel, slice in half, deseed, and chop. Onion: slice into half moons. Garlic: chop. Sausage: slice into thin rounds on the diagonal.
- Heat some oil up in a large saucepan. Once warm add the garlic and onion. Cook ~5 minutes medium heat.
- Add ~1 T of the chicken base and some achiote. I started small as the seeds are very pungent. But this paste was mild so I added a good tablespoon. Also add a little water as the paste needs something to dissolve in.
- Once the achiote has mostly dissolved scoop out about half of the onions and set aside. They will be added to the rice once cooked.
- Speaking of rice, cook the rice according to package.
- Add the choyote and sausage to the remaining onions. Mix well and cook ~5 minutes.
- Add the can of beans with liquid. Add 1/2c to 1c of water. Season with a little s&p and low simmer until slightly thickened.
- Once rice is cooked fluff with fork and mix in the set aside onions. Season with a little salt too.
- Serve beans over rice. I had some leftover guacamole from lunch too, lucky me!