In the realm of cheap-but-filling foods, few things deliver more bang for the buck than a big ol’ pot of beans. Throw in some cooked rice as filler and you can stretch a 50-cent portion of bulk beans for several days, as I was able to do with this meal. The trick of adding balsamic vinegar, sherry and soy sauce to bring out the umami compounds in black beans is an old favorite of mine, courtesy of Bon Appetit, and in this case the flavor perfectly complements the sugary sweet potatoes, tart lime, and earthy-crunchy pumpkin seeds. In fact, this meal is so good it would work for a dinner party (it’s even vegan!), and no one would ever guess the whole thing cost less than $3 to make.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit. As below it makes about 6 servings.
• 8 oz. dry black beans: 50 cents
• 1 1/2 cups dry medium or long-grain white rice (Costco sells 25-pound bags for under $7): 25 cents
• 1 small onion, chopped: 20 cents
• 1 lb. orange sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes: 70 cents
• 2 T sherry: 20 cents
• 1 T balsamic vinegar (the real stuff is also cheap at Costco): 8 cents
• 1 T soy sauce: 5 cents
• 2 1/2 T oil: 11 cents
• 1/2 cup green pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat until puffed and golden: 25 cents
• 1/4 bunch cilantro, leaves chopped: 10 cents
• 2 limes, cut into wedges: 50 cents
• Salt to taste: 1 cent
TOTAL: $2.92/6 = 49 cents/serving
Bring black beans, 4 cups of water, the chopped onion, 1 1/2 T oil, and a pinch of salt to a boil in a large, heavy pot with lid. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until beans are tender, about 1-1 1/2 hours.
Cook the rice in a rice cooker or however you cook rice (I use a ratio of 2x water to rice).
Preheat the oven to 450 F.
Toss the sweet-potato cubes in the remaining 1 T oil and a pinch of salt, spread on a baking sheet, and roast until tender, turning the pieces over once or twice, about 30-40 minutes.
When the beans are tender, add the sherry, balsamic vinegar, and soy sauce (adding more of each to taste, if desired). Simmer for 5 more minutes to meld the flavors, add salt to taste.
Mix the cooked rice into the beans (add a little more liquid to the beans if they seem too dry). Carefully fold in the roasted sweet potatoes. Serve garnished with pepitas and cilantro, with a lime wedge or two squeezed over the top.