Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Spicy beef and brown rice (imprew-ved)

In our house we like to say, whenever there's been a change of plan or a change of mind about some activity -- it doesn't matter how small -- that we have "imprew-ved" whatever it was. We are cleverly quoting an obscure line in the old Disney movie Alice in Wonderland. When the snooty, hookah-smoking caterpillar misquotes "How doth the busy little bee," and Alice protests his error, he blows another perfect smoke ring, looks down at her, and pronounces, "I kno-ow. I have imprew-ved it."

Image from Conveniently Misplaced

Thus, with a recipe for "Spicy beef and brown rice" taken some years ago from the back of the Riceland brown rice box. Originally, the dish is the height of simplicity. You simply brown ground beef in a heavy skillet, and then add half a chopped onion, a diced tomato, a little garlic powder, and a little something, maybe two or three small forkfuls, from a can of hot chilies. Salt and pepper to taste, naturally. Simmer for half an hour, and serve over brown rice.

It will never render Larousse ridiculous, but it's serviceable for a weeknight, done-in-an-hour dinner. Still, couldn't it stand imprew-vement?

You might start with a chopped onion and a chopped leek, and soften both for ten minutes or so in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add a clove of diced garlic, scattering the pieces over the other vegetables so that they warm for a minute or two, but do not scorch.

Remove all this to a bowl, and then put a pound of ground beef into the empty skillet. Brown this completely, breaking it up as it cooks. When it is browned, spoon off the fat and discard it. Notice, in doing this, you get rid of a lot of the beef fat but not the olive oil still clinging to the aromatic vegetables in their bowl. I do wish cookbooks, or even the recipes on the backs of rice boxes, would include this little instruction, since it makes ground beef meals (never my favorite, frankly) less greasy and quite a bit nicer. Then again, maybe everybody already knows my clever trick.

Return the onions, leeks, and garlic to the defatted beef, and then add a can of stewed or diced tomatoes (again, we're not rendering Larousse ridiculous -- though do use fresh tomato if you prefer it), and -- carefully -- two small forkfuls of canned hot chilies. If two forkfuls prove not enough, you can always taste and, carefully, add more. Are you tempted to be safe and virtuous, and buy a can of mild chilies instead, so you can use it all and not waste any? Don't bother. Mild chilies won't have nearly enough "kick."

Add a can of black beans, and perhaps a quarter teaspoon of cumin if you feel frisky. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes or so, while you cook a pot of brown rice and prepare some sort of green vegetable. Peas leap to mind, as their sweetness offsets the heat of the spicy beef.

And that's all there is to it.

No wine can hope to survive hot chilies, tomato, garlic, and onions, unless perhaps you try something most definitely sweet. Perhaps a moscato would do. The best of them smell and taste just like a handful of hard, ripe, fresh Thompson seedless grapes all stuffed in the mouth and cracked deliciously against the teeth on a hot summer day. Or, in lieu thereof, Gawdhelpus, a beer? Feel free to think of an imprew-vement.

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