Rice and beans for grad students

I learn from Elif Batuman’s blog that the Muskogee, Oklahoma, Phoenix has included in its review of Keith Gessen’s novel All the Sad Young Literary Men recipes used by actual graduate students. Keith himself, evidently, was unable to provide one, suggesting that while he was a student he subsisted largely on black bread dipped in pasta sauce, which he described to himself as “pizza.” The reporter contacted several writers who at some time in the recent past were penniless, and Elif notes that “the sad young literary men didn’t really provide any recipes . . . , while the women all came through.”

One is tempted to compound the essentialism of Elif’s critique by raising the question of sexual orientation. At one period during grad school, I fantasized about writing a book about how to eat on no money a week, because I seemed to know so much about it (and so little about anything else). It’s probably just as well the book never got written, because part of it was going to include such advice as “Find out when the dollar night is at your local Burger King; in my neighborhood it’s Tuesday,” which is not really advice I would offer any more, and not just because I’m now a vegetarian. I also had an awful recipe that I liked very much at the time, which consisted of putting a gob of peanut butter and a sprinkle of soy sauce onto some just-cooked spaghetti, and mashing it up and telling myself it was “sesame noodles.” For a long time I carried around a long disquisition in my head about how, if you only had two dollars to spend at the grocery store, you should buy a jar of generic peanut butter and not a jar of generic pasta sauce. I’m afraid I no longer remember the premises or the logic that led me to this conclusion.

But there is a recipe that has survived from that era into this one; it was taught to me originally by my sister. It’s pretty cheap—not as cheap as fake sesame noodles, and not as cheap as pasta sauce on bread, but pretty reasonable, and much better for you than either of them. Herewith . . .

Rice and Beans

Make rice, the way the box tells you to, so that you’ll end up with between two and three cups of cooked rice. (If you make white rice, go through the rest of this recipe presto; if you make brown rice, go through it andante.)

While the rice is cooking, slice and fry an onion.

Chop a green pepper, and peel and chop three garlic cloves. Add them to the onion mixture, along with a shake each of salt, pepper, and cumin, and two shakes of chili powder.

Once the onion has started to brown, add an undrained can of black beans. Stir; cover; simmer. Add water if it starts to look too thick.

While the rice and beans are separately cooking, prepare as many of these toppings as you feel like or can afford: chopped cherry tomatoes, washed and chopped cilantro, shredded cheddar cheese, and pitted green olives.

Once the rice is finished, add a shake of oregano and a splash of red cider vinegar to the bean mixture and stir. Serve the rice in individual bowls with the beans ladled on top. Add the tomatoes, cilantro, cheese, and olives as desired/afforded. Makes enough for two grad students, or for one who hasn’t eaten since breakfast. No good the next day, so eat it all now.

Of course lentil soup remains the Grundrisse for all serious intellectual work in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century.

10 thoughts on “Rice and beans for grad students”

  1. mm, sounds delicious. i'm in malawi but i'm planning to scrounge up the ingredients and give it a shot. another recipe that will perpetually remind me of my grad school days (though significantly less classy than even rice and beans): prepare a box of velveeta mac and cheese. dice celery and olives and open a can of tuna. add the olives, celery, and tuna to the prepared mac and cheese. top with cayenne or chili pepper.

  2. Be careful with your lentil intake, though. I know of a someone who ate so many lentils in his student days, he ended up with gout!

  3. Hmmm. Maybe it was too many anchovies. According to Wikipedia (admittedly not so Delphic), they–like your dear lentil–are high in purines. Did you know Guy Debord and Pee Wee Herman are notable sufferers of gout? But back to more palatable topics: your recipe sounds delicious.

  4. Paul Reubens (Pee Wee Herman) = Peter Paul Rubens (Baroque Master)? Just that kind of day today.

  5. As a current grad student, my 'treat' lunch is to put pasta sauce and cheese on bread and then toast it. I describe this to myself as a homemade pizza. Also, since coming to the US, I have discovered that peanut butter and jam sandwiches constitute a vegetarian high-protein lunch which can also be seen to include one serving of 'fruits and vegetables'.

  6. Sorry, but this recipe doesn't even meet the basic requirements of a grad school recipe. For one, it can't be use be used as leftovers. A good recipe for graduate students allows you to have at least two meals worth of leftovers. That way you do not have to mess around with cooking if you have a lot of work to do.

    Secondly, it requires way too many ingredients. My personal thought is that if a recipe requires more five ingredients (and I have a feeling that though the toppings are optional, the recipe won't taste good without at least one of them) then it cuts too much out of your budget.

  7. I agree with the too-many ingredients and disagree about it not keeping well. The truly penurious graduate student will not sacrifice protein now for spices and vinegar (or olives, for that matter) later. With lots of garlic, drained tuna fish adds extra nourishment to your basic recipe. If you're a humanities graduate student, I'd recommend The Army Survival Manual as a good resource for foraging in the environment for cattails and improvising traps for opossums, voles, and squirrels. Many insects, also, contain significant nutritional value, though I can't remember if silverfish are poisonous or not.

  8. Lately I've been making my own simple pasta sauce with canned crushed tomatoes, garlic, and fresh herbs from a few plants I picked up for $2 each. It's about 1/4 of the price of the prepared stuff, takes about 5 minutes to prep, and simmers on the stove while I do other things. I freeze it in individual portions. Sometimes I blend in a roasted red pepper. When I do buy prepared pasta or stir fry sauce, I freeze whatever I don't use so that it doesn't go to waste.

    Lentil soup is much improved by the addition of about 3/4 tsp dijon mustard, 2 tsp maple syrup, and a squeeze of lemon or lime. Stir it in right before serving.

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