Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Old Cajun wisdom for the young scientist

During the summer after I started grad school, Paul Graham posted an interesting article: "Ramen Profitable." I thought it was inspiring in two ways:
  1. It made the point that a startup founder is in a much safer, more comfortable and more productive position once enough revenue is coming in to support minimal cost-of-living; raising additional funding is no longer the most important thing. Replace "founder" with "grad student"/"postdoc"/"omg it never ends," and "funding" with "funding" (well, it sounds completely different when you change the context), and you've explained why applying for long-shot grants is such a resource sink, yet we all do it anyway, and why a grim but reliable stipend is an acceptable equilibrium for many academics.
  2. The article included a vague but basically great recipe for beans and rice in the footnotes.
I cooked variations of this recipe through the rest of grad school, and now as a postdoc. It hits the sweet spots for flavor, cost, ease of prep, and sheer volume of leftovers.  Here's the specific recipe I converged on over the years.

Red and Black Beans and Rice (SEC)

— or —

Life of the Mind Beans and Rice (other conferences)

In a rice cooker, mix together:
  • 1 c. dry rice (white, brown or parboiled)
  • 1/2 c. quinoa
  • 2 1/2 to 3 c. water (see rice packaging and past experience)
  • (optional: 1 Tbsp. white vinegar)
  • (optional: 1 tsp. garlic powder)

Start the rice cooker and let it do its thing. Heat in a large pan over medium:
  • 1-2 Tbsp. vegetable oil

  • 1 medium/large or 2 small yellow onion(s), chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, chopped; or 2 Tbsp. garlic paste

Cook until onions are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add:
  • 2-4 oz. andouille sausage; or spicy pork sausage; or other spicy sausage; chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 c. okra, chopped
  • (optional: 1/2 to 1 jalapeno pepper, chopped)

Stir casually for 4-5 minutes. (This is a good time to grab a beer from the fridge.) Season with:
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 to 1 Tbsp. paprika
  • 1/2 to 1 Tbsp. cumin
  • 1 "serving" condensed chicken broth; or 1 cube chicken boullion, crumbled
  • (optional: 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red/cayenne pepper)

Stir for 1 minute to mix thoroughly. Open:
  • 1 14-oz can black beans
  • 1 14-oz can red beans; or kidney beans; or more black beans

Pour in the liquid and about 1/3 to 1/2 of the beans from each can into the pan, and stir to mix. Put the rest of the beans in a small bowl or sturdy (Pyrex) beaker and mash somewhat. Add the semi-mashed beans to the pan. Stir for another 3-5 minutes to let the stew thicken.

(When the rice cooker finishes, take off the glass lid and drape a cheesecloth or thin towel over it for a few minutes while the rice cools a little.)

Serve the beans over the rice/quinoa blend in a shallow bowl.

Leftovers are even better.