Expat life is not for the faint-hearted. It is constantly filled with goodbyes, endless packing and unpacking, adjusting and re-adjusting, and some degree of culture shock and its even friendlier cousin, reverse culture shock. In each transcontinental trek you are faced with those questions and doubts that only expats can relate to. And, in the face of all these challenges, you often find that the reasons you chose to move; to be an expat in a foreign land, to raise your kids in that foreign land, are still the same. Only a fellow expat can relate.
On the upside, you get really good at navigating airports and knowing which flights are the best to take. You get so good at packing, and you learn the value of what is truly essential to you and what isn’t. You find that adjusting gets easier (it’s just a matter of time, right?) and culture shock is amusing. Those questions and doubts…those still come and go, but you learn to live with them. They’re part of the package, so to speak.
But when it all seems like too much, like when you’re utterly exhausted and still jet lagged and your very aware toddler is beckoning to you because she doesn’t quite understand why she hasn’t seen the sun in 3 days, those are the moments to turn to comfort food.
One of the most important things for me to do to feel at home is to get in the kitchen and start cooking. That simple but ancestral act keeps me grounded. The smell of food wafting through my home is a sure sign that we’ve arrived, and soon our bellies will be full and our hearts and minds will be calm.
Comfort food can simply be a piece of good cheese and a hearty piece of bread. Sometimes it’s something sweet. Sometimes it’s a bit more complicated, but every bit worth it. Whatever it is, it’s the same for everyone; it’s usually a favorite childhood meal.
For me that will always be rice and beans.
When I visited Colombia, particularly the Antioquia and Caldas regions, I suddenly felt at home. I was born and raised in the States and had only visited Colombia once before as a child. Yet, when I ate the traditional rice and beans, I may as well have been in the kitchen of my childhood home.
It turns out that being a first-generation American is a lot like being an expat. You find home in more places than one and you find that parts of you belong in places you’d never dream of and some parts just don’t belong where you think they should. No matter how hard you try.
Food has a way of taking you home. For me, that’s just what this dish; cargamanto beans and rice, sweet plantains, an over-easy egg, some chicharron (pork belly), and an arepa, does. Of course, times and places have changed, and I’ve had to make adjustments. While white rice used to be a comfort food, it no longer is and long grain brown rice in no way takes away from the beauty and comfort of this meal. Neither does grass-fed pork, mind you! (No pork here though, grass-fed or otherwise!) Another ingredient that’s had to go is the Sazón Goya. Once I found out that the main ingredients were cumin, coriander, garlic and onion powder and yellows #5 and #6 I figured it was time to make my own, minus the chemicals. So, this may not exactly be the exact, traditional way of preparing this dish, but it comes so close not even my mom can tell the difference. Except for the rice!
This is what I do and what I love to do. I love to take those meals, the favorite ones and make them better by making them more whole, more nutritious and yes, more delicious. You never know when you’re going to need to get a dose of home or for how long so comfort food should be good for you on all levels…as much as possible anyway!
Thankfully, this dish did the trick. Feeling more at home already!
What are your favorite comfort foods?
For the beans:
- 1 C cargamanto beans (cranberry beans), soaked in water overnight
- 1 1″ piece of kombu
- 2 bay leaves
- 8 C bone broth or water
- 2-3 T Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, diced
- 2 vine tomatoes, diced
- 1 T ground cumin
- 1 t ground coriander
- 1 t ground paprika
- 1/2 t garlic powder
- Several good pinches of Himalayan Pink Salt (my salt of choice, but sea salt is great, too)
- Drain and rinse the beans then add beans to a soup pot with the broth/water, kombu and bay leaves. Cook on high heat for 10 minutes then reduce heat to medium/low and partially cover. Make sure to skim any residue that has formed in the first high heat cooking.
- Heat oil in a saute pan over medium heat and add onions. Add a pinch of salt and saute until translucent. Add tomatoes and all spices and cook until it becomes ultra fragrant and is a bit thick, almost like a paste. (If you need a little help getting to this stage, 1 T of tomato paste does the trick!)
- Add onion/tomato mixture to beans and keep cooking on medium/low heat, partially covered until beans are tender. It usually takes about an hour.
For the rice:
- 1 C long grain brown rice, thoroughly washed and soaked overnight in 2 C water and 1 T lemon juice or vinegar
- 1 T extra virgin olive oil
- Pinch of Himalayan Pink Salt (or sea salt)
- Place rice in its soaking water, in a small sauce pan with oil and salt. Cook over high heat until it reaches a boil.
- Once it reaches a boil, lower heat to low and cover. Cook this way for about 40 minutes.
- Whatever you do, DO NOT STIR the rice! Leave it alone and it will do its job. You’ll know the rice is done when small holes appear and the water has disappeared. Once you’ve reached this point, quickly replace the lid and remove from heat. The rice will finish off nicely sitting in its steam for a bit.