While working my way through my undergraduate studies at SFA, my part-time job forced me to live on a meager budget. During one year upon completing my tax return, I was surprised to discover that I had been living below the poverty level. And yet during those years, I learned a lot, I grew, had fun and I never missed a meal. I always had that sack of pinto beans in the pantry just in case my groceries ran out before my next pay check.

Many of our parents lived through the great depression. From them we learned valuable lessons on frugality. I remember Mom often reminding us to turn out the lights when we left a room. “Don’t hold the icebox door open. Close the front door; You’re letting the air conditioning out!” Does any of this bring back memories? We also learned not to waste food and how to prepare simple meals that were nourishing and delicious.

During these times when we tighten our belts, there are many little things we can do in the kitchen to help. For example, meatless meals are less expensive and can add variety and comfort. Potatoes, beans and rice, peas and cornbread are all common comfort foods. Involve the kids and grandkids in the food prep. This teaches valuable living skills and promotes family interaction. The kitchen has always been the social center of the home.

Our parents taught us the concept, “to stretch the meat?” In casseroles, soups, stews and other combo dishes, use half the meat called for by the recipe and save the other half for another meal. Add a starch such as potatoes, rice, pasta or beans to replace the lesser amount of meat and to make it “stretch” farther.

Focus on reducing serving sizes. Losing a few pounds helps to improve health and build our resistance. Smaller serving sizes are better received when there are more than two things on the plate. For example, scalloped potatoes, green beans and meatloaf; or pinto beans, rice and turnip greens; sometimes a fruit can add balance to a meal. When we eat foods from different groups together in a meal, we improve meal balance which in turn improves satiety (makes the meal stay with us longer.) So, improving meal balance can help us to reduce serving sizes.

Now is not a time to avoid starches. These foods are less expensive, filling and nutritious. Just remember that starches are by nature a bland food. So, don’t forget the flavor elements. Many different flavors (not just salt) can improve any dish. Oregano goes very well in any soup, stew or in a pot of beans. Basil goes with any sauce or soup containing tomatoes. As you have seen in many of my recipes, garlic and onions are staple flavors.

Foods that evoke fond memories are known as comfort foods. Our traditional beans and rice of this area is a prime example. Aside from being healthy, it is inexpensive and nourishing. When you want something different, try this month’s twist on the traditional beans and rice. It brings in some different herbs and adds raisins for flavor and texture. Sautéing the onions, garlic and peppers at the beginning releases their flavors and begins the building of layered flavors in the pot. Our grandmother would never have added cinnamon to her beans but, in North African cuisine this spice adds a warmth to savory dishes. Any beans will work in this recipe if you don’t have garbanzo. Remember, recipes are meant to serve merely as a guideline. If you don’t have a certain ingredient such as low sodium vegetable broth, substitute water.

Adversity often brings out the best in people. Sitting around the dinner table for a home cooked meal is a perfect time to tell family stories and recall our unique heritage. There is much joy to be found in nurturing our relationships and our food can play a part. Don’t spare the joy while making the most of this time.

Not Your Grandmother’s

Beans and Rice

Serving Size: 1 cup

Serves: 6

Ingredients

1 cup brown rice

2 cups low sodium vegetable broth

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

½ medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 poblano pepper, seeded and diced

1 tablespoon dry oregano

1 tablespoon dry basil

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper to taste

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground black pepper to taste

4 tablespoons fresh parsley, diced

1 15 oz can no added salt diced tomatoes

1 15 oz can garbanzo beans

¼ cup golden raisins

Directions

Prepare the rice according to package directions replacing the water with vegetable broth.

Heat the oil over medium heat. Sauté the onions, garlic and peppers until the onions are soft. Stir in the spices and parsley. Add the tomatoes, beans and raisins and bring to serving temperature. Stir in the rice. Adjust the seasonings to desired taste and serve.

Beans and rice are both satisfying and nutritious. This recipe incorporates the flavors of North Africa to create a delicious comfort food - one very different from what most of us grew up with. Serve with a spinach salad or collard greens.

Exchanges per serving:

2 Starches, 2 Vegetables, 1Fat

Nutrients per serving:

Calories: 273

Calories from fat: 60

Total Fat: 7g

Saturated Fat: 1g

Cholesterol: 0mg

Sodium: 388mg

Carbohydrate: 49g

Dietary Fiber: 7g

Protein: 8g

Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with years of experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He is a Nacogdoches resident and he helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health. Memorial Cooking Innovations currently runs in 62 cities and is locally available on Sudden Link cable channel 2 in Nacogdoches.

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