Fasting has been on my mind lately, for a few reasons.  First of all, we are deep in the middle reaches of Lent, a time of simplification and reflection that is bracketed by the fast days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Then too, I was struck by Mark Bittman’s recent NYT Opinionator article about a multi-day fast that he and 4,000 or so other people had joined to draw attention to a House budget bill, H.R. 1., which proposed cuts to WIC, food stamps, and international food aid.  As I followed Bittman’s progress on his blog, I thought about the appropriateness of fasting in solidarity with the poor and hungry during the Lenten season, and how much I admire him for having the courage of his convictions.

I also kept thinking about how difficult that four days would be for me.  It feels nearly impossible for me to go without eating for more than a few hours.  My concentration becomes focused exclusively on the rumbling in my tummy and the slow movement of the clock.  And yet, for many people this is an all-too-familiar feeling.

Compared to a four-day fast, the Catholic requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent is a breeze.  It is a gentle discipline that prompts me to stop and reflect, a practice that highlights the true abundance I enjoy, a reminder to be satisfied with enough.

This simple meal of beans and rice is ideal for a Friday in Lent or a Meatless Monday any time of year.  But frankly, it is so savory and good that I can happily eat it any day of the week and it doesn’t feel sacrificial or penitent at all.

Start with dried beans if you prefer–they are cheaper and certainly not difficult to soak and cook.  However, with canned beans this is an incredibly quick and easy meal to put together.  Start your brown rice first, and by the time it is done, the beans will be ready to go.  I do believe that there is a time and a place for white rice, but in this dish the pleasant chewiness of the brown rice contrasts nicely with the yielding texture of the beans, soaking up the savory sauce.

Served with a green vegetable, salad, or some roasted cauliflower, you’ve got dinner for tonight, leftovers for lunch tomorrow, and—perhaps best of all—a little spare time on your hands with which to go change the world, should you be so inclined.

Black Beans and Brown Rice

(adapted from Orangette)

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. ground (Mexican style) oregano
  • 1 tsp. hot sauce, or to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, pressed
  • 2 cups of cooked black beans with cooking liquid or 1-15-ounce can
  • 1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste

To cook two cups of dry black beans: Sort beans and place in a medium saucepan.  Cover by two inches with water.  Soak in refrigerator overnight.  Drain water and cover with fresh water before cooking.  Simmer, covered, for approximately one hour, or until tender.

In a saucepan, warm olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently for 15-20 minutes, until it begins to caramelize. Stir in the ground cumin and oregano, garlic, and hot sauce.  Add the beans with their liquid. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the beans are soft and warmed through. Add salt as needed.

Serve over brown rice.

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