A Hispanic Chef Shares Her Simple, Flavorful Rice and Beans Recipe
Photo Credit: AS Food studio/Shutterstock
National Hispanic Heritage Month begins September 15, and to celebrate, we’re highlighting some Hispanic women doing amazing things in their industry. One such woman is Nadya Deniz, a chef who has perfected her grandmother’s rice and beans recipe.
As a young girl, Deniz acted as a mini sous chef in her grandmother’s kitchen in Rincón, Puerto Rico. There, she worked in various local restaurants before moving to New York City at the age of 18. “I’ve worked at places like Scarpetta, where I learned to make fresh pasta, and North River Lobster Co., which taught me how to declaw and extract the right kind of meat that’s best for lobster rolls,” she tells CircleAround.
Now 26, Deniz prefers working seasonally so she can travel the world and explore new cuisines and cultures and gain more experience in international kitchens. “I feel privileged to come from a place like Puerto Rico and travel the world with my job,” she says. “It can take a lot to leave the community where I grew up. I’m the only one in my family who has ever left. The skills my grandmother taught me have brought me to amazing places.”
While Deniz is grateful to be doing what she loves, she faced challenges along the way as a Hispanic female chef. According to the 2019 U.S. Census Bureau statistics, nearly one in four chefs is Hispanic, and restaurants employ more Hispanic managers than any other industry. Despite this, less than a quarter of chefs in the U.S. are women, and female chefs earn less than male chefs.
“There’s no doubt that being a woman working in a restaurant is hard as hell,” Deniz says. “You face harassment from male coworkers constantly, and there are so many chefs and staff who are condescending. The only way to make it better is by having your own restaurant, which is sometimes harder because you need to know so much more beyond just cooking.”
To set herself apart, Deniz focuses on making what she loves most — comfort foods of her childhood. Her grandmother’s rice and beans recipe is her all-time favorite, and uses a mix of store-bought ingredients (like jarred sofrito) with fresh produce.
“It’s really hard to find typical Puerto Rican ingredients on the road,” she explains to CircleAround. “The markets have a lot to offer in terms of fresh stuff, but you can’t just get adobo anywhere.”
If she has space in her suitcase, Deniz brings a few staple ingredients with her on her travels. If not, she adapts her family recipes based on what’s available.
“I can almost always find tomatoes, onions, garlic, and rice,” she says. “I figured out how to make an easy recipe for rice and beans that feels familiar but doesn’t use a million ingredients. This recipe can be a great side dish or just eaten on its own depending on how much flavor you add.”
Deniz says the trick is soaking dried beans, which is healthier than using canned beans, in chicken stock, infusing the legumes with flavor that reduces the otherwise earthy taste of dried beans. “Never use just water to soak your beans,” she advises. “Always make sure there is some kind of seasoning to help them taste great.”
Here is Deniz’s adapted rice and beans recipe that will boost your side dishes with a new kind of flavor you’ll return to over and over again.
Easy, Tasty Rice and Beans
- 1 cup dried beans (black, pinto, or kidney beans are typical, but you can use any bean you like)
- 3 cups of chicken stock (plus more for soaking)
- 1 cup of water, plus more for soaking
- 3 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 green pepper, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 can crushed tomatoes (or two large fresh tomatoes, peeled and cored)
- 1 tbsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. pepper
- 1 cup rice
- 1 tbsp. cumin seeds
- 1 tsp. lime juice
- Cilantro, for garnish
- Soak the beans overnight in one cup of chicken stock.
- Heat a pan with the oil. Add the chopped onion and peppers and saute for about 3 to 5 minutes, until soft and fragrant. Add the crushed garlic and stir for 1 minute to release the flavor.
- Add tomatoes, and ½ of the chicken stock. Cook until the mixture is soft but slightly thick, with the liquid reduced, about 5 minutes.
- Add the beans, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil to incorporate the ingredients, then simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure the ingredients don’t stick to the bottom of the pan. The mixture will thicken to a sauce-like consistency. If the mixture seems too thick, add a tablespoon of water until desired thickness is reached.
- Prepare the rice with the rest of the chicken stock and the cumin seeds. If using a second saucepan, add 2 cups of chicken stock for every cup of rice. Boil, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice (about 15 minutes). Remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for another 5 minutes.
- If using a rice cooker or an Instapot, prepare the ingredients based on the appliance’s instructions (the amount of liquid may vary as a result).
- Plate the combination by adding the beans on top of a bed of rice, or if serving as a main meal, combine the two. Garnish with lime juice and cilantro.