Where I Started From, Book One

Recently I started thinking about my first cookbook, Jane Brody's Good Food Book.

Toward the end of my senior year in college, Jane Brody came to speak there. I bought her nutrition book in the school bookstore, and poured over it.

That year I started changing how I ate. By the time of graduation I was almost-vegetarian, eating fish, and had become very health-conscious.

Like many of you, I grew up with the dinner plate being composed of the protein, the
starch and the vegetable. My mother was a very good cook, and pretty traditional in an American sort of way.

After graduating, and while living with her in New York City, I bought the Good Food Book.

A couple nights a week, I began cooking dinner for us, trying some of the recipes from the book. The ingredients called for are fairly common, nothing too expensive or hard to find.

I can't say everything turned out great, but my mother never told me not to cook, so I persevered.

So, when recently I started thinking about this book and where I started cooking from, I remembered the one recipe from this book that really changed things for me. It was Company Rice with Beans.

It was so easy and satisfying, and I think this was part of the appeal. It more or less taught me how to cook for myself. It showed me that once you learn a method, the variations are endless.

Long after I had made this recipe a few times and had committed the idea to memory, I no longer needed a recipe. I stopped measuring.

Rice, beans, vegetables and some cheese. For quite a while, when I was living on my own, I would go in the kitchen some evenings, and put together a bowl of these components.

It sounds so obvious maybe, but the idea had to click. To this day, my favorite recipes are a rough guideline that I can fly with.

So, the other evening, for the first time in years, I made Company Rice with Beans. I wanted to see if the recipe still seemed significant in any way.

What struck me most is how my idea of simple, easy and healthy have changed. Simple to me now is something like spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and crushed red pepper.
Healthy is using the freshest local ingredients I can find. If I don't cook with fish or poultry, I don't even think of the meal as vegetarian.

Jane Brody says the inspiration for this came one night when she had unexpected guests and needed to prepare a meal out of what she had on hand. I'm not so sure I would make this for company, but it's a great dish to make for a simple supper for yourself or for those you feel very comfortable with.

I had all sorts of ideas to revamp this simple fare, but in the end, I tweaked only a little, wanting to stay close to the heart of the idea. Jane Brody says this was so easy that she was able to talk to her guests while preparing it. That image stopped me from getting too fussy.

She made this in Summer with fresh tomatoes and zucchini. She served it along with beans from her garden and salad. I kept it as a one bowl meal, so it served 3, instead of 4.

I am sure most of you readers are well beyond something like this, but it's still a good dish to pull out in a pinch, a pantry sort of recipe.

I never cook like this anymore except for assembling different ingredients for a salad. I can't remember the last time I put together some grains, legumes, and vegetables, and called it dinner. It sounds like a pretty good place to revisit every now and then.

Pass this along to someone you know who is just starting out, or make it yourself as a reminder of how simple meals can be sometimes.

Without further ado, I bring you the dish that opened a door for me.

Company Rice with Beans
adapted from Jane Brody

1 cup white rice
2 cups water
1 TB. oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed or finely minced
1/2 lb. mushrooms, sliced (I used baby bella)
1 medium zucchini, or 1/2 lb. of vegetable of your choice, coarsely chopped
1/2 tsp. dried oregano, or 1 TB. chopped, fresh herbs such as oregano, thyme or basil
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, or other beans, such as kidney, black or navy
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup shredded smoked cheddar, or other cheese such as cheddar, gouda, or swiss

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the rice and water, bring the mixture to a boil,
reduce the heat, cover the pan, and simmer the mixture for 20 minutes. Keep the
pan covered until the vegetable mixture is done.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet, add the onion and garlic, saute them
until they are soft.
3. Add the mushrooms, zucchini, and oregano. Cover the skillet, and simmer the
vegetables until they are tender.
4. Add the chickpeas, and simmer the mixture, stirring it occasionally, until it is
heated through. Season with salt and pepper.
5. To serve, spoon the vegetable-bean mixture over the hot rice, and sprinkle the
cheese on top.