We all have nights when we have no idea what we can pull together for dinner. Nights when the fridge offers no inspiration and we should have gone to the store two days ago. As uncomfortable as that position might be, I have found that I kind of love it. Not every improv dinner is a hit, but some of my favorite dishes of all time have been born this way, through necessity. It is the mother of invention, after all.
One way in which I try to make things easier on myself is by keeping a pantry well stocked with dry goods. That way I know in a pinch that I can pull together some beans and grains, and it just becomes a question of which items will make up the supporting cast. The first time I made this dish, I remembered that I had half of a kabocha squash in the fridge, and thus was dinner saved. My love for the mighty kabocha cannot be underestimated. I just started eating it regularly this past year, and I find its flavor unparalleled–not too sweet, not too savory, just somewhere in a perfect middle ground. The color of its flesh is also absolutely gorgeous, and I marvel at it every time I cut one open.
Now for the beans. A sweet friend of ours sent us a huge box of Rancho Gordo beans for a wedding present (thank you, K!!), and I loved every single variety. Those beans are long gone now, but I am happy to find that I can get a lot of the same varieties at a specialty store here (though without the cute packaging and the allure of Napa-grown legumes!). I have used several different varieties in this recipe, but my favorite is called Tongue of Fire. The ones above are cranberry beans, which may be easier to find, but really, you can use any kind you like. I always cook mine in the pressure cooker, which takes 25-30 minutes, depending on the bean, but you can also soak them overnight for cooking in a pot on the stovetop. Or, of course, you can use canned, but they won’t hold their shape as well.
For the rice, I turned to my beloved Bhutanese red rice. This grain is seriously hearty and nutty and chock full of protein. I love its color and its history, and it adds a lot to this dish. Red rice cooks very similarly to other types of rice, simmered in a covered saucepan, and it doesn’t get mushy or gummy like some other types of rice can. I love it!
With the squash, rice, and beans cooking away, I turned to the base of the dish: onions and garlic, of course, with plenty of cumin and coriander, and my secret weapon: chipotle peppers. I adore their deep smokiness and spicy bite. They really transform a meal into something extraordinary!
Radishes were another key ingredient. We had a fresh bunch of them for salad, but alas, we had already eaten all of the lettuce. Instead of letting them languish in the fridge, I chopped them and tossed them in. Radishes taste remarkably different when cooked, and I love the tender bite that they bring to this dish.
Red Rice and Heirloom Beans with Kabocha Squash and Radishes
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 c Bhutanese red rice
1 1/2 c dried heirloom beans (about 3 c cooked; roughly equivalent to 2 cans)
1 medium kabocha squash
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cumin seed
1 tsp coriander
2 Tbsp chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, diced (you can dial it back if you want to decrease the spiciness)
6 radishes, sliced
Juice of 1 lime
1 c chopped cilantro leaves and stems (reduce if you don’t like the flavor)
Salt to taste (I actually don’t add any, but you can if you like)
Sour cream or cotija cheese for topping (optional)
Pepitas or walnuts for topping (optional)
-Heat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice kabocha squash and save seeds for roasting, if you like. Roast squash slices on parchment paper for 25-30 minutes, until tender.
-Cook dried beans in a pressure cooker with 1 Tbsp olive oil and 6 c water for 25-30 minutes, or until tender. (If using a regular pot, soak overnight and then simmer for 1-2 hours, or until tender.)
-Bring 1 1/2 c water to a boil, and then add a pinch of salt and red rice. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. (1 c dried rice yields 3 c cooked rice).
-Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a large skillet. Add chopped onions and saute on medium heat for 5-7 minutes, until softened and browning. Add chopped garlic and dried spices; stir for 1 minute (you may need to add a splash of water to deglaze the pan at this point). Add chipotle peppers and stir for an additional minute. Finally, add the radishes and saute until tender.
-Add the roasted squash (cut into small pieces), cooked rice, and beans to the pan and stir well.
-Add lime juice and cilantro and stir well.
-Top with sour cream or cotija cheese and walnuts or pepitas for an extra crunch. Enjoy!