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Friday, June 19, 2009

In Praise of Beans and Rice

A couple of Sundays ago, I was sitting with my Italian friend Stefano, his Indonesian wife Farah and her mother Sri, Stefano's three kids, and his yoga guru from India. We were in an Indian restaurant with lots of things on the table, including daal (lentils) and veg biryani (rice).

I told them this story:

When my Grandma Baquet was running a house with six young 'uns in it, Saturday was laundry day. (This is when it was all done by hand, kids.) So she'd sweat some onions and garlic in a pot then put in pre-soaked kidney beans and some salt pork, and simmer it all in plenty of water. As the day went on, she'd just add enough water to keep it going.

At dinner time, with the laundry done, she'd cook some rice, and voila! it was dinner.

When my folks got married, my dad's sister, Aunt Til, taught my mom how to cook "beans 'n' rice," the family standard (a sign of our New Orleans heritage). Saturday was "beans night" in the Baquet household all my life. Even when my big brothers were old enough to start dating and--for social reasons--insisted that they couldn't eat beans, Mom would cook two meals: beans for Dad and whoever else wanted them, and something else for those that declined.

Beans and rice are still the family staple.

And not only for Baquets. You do know how important this dish is, don't you? There's even a Wikipedia article about it, which confirms that "the consumption of the two in tandem provides all the essential amino acids." That means protein, especially important for us vegetarians. While most of the beans I eat at home these days come out of cans, I still eat them several times a week.

So, I concluded to my friends, I may live half a world away now. My wife may be from the Philippines, and my closest friends from India, Italy, Indonesia, and even some places that don't start with "I." I may speak a strange pastiche of English and a handful of other tongues (lots of Chinese, Japanese, and Sanskrit in my vocabulary, along with increasing amounts of Tagalog). "But," I said, gesturing to the daal and biryani dishes on the table, "I'm still eating beans and rice."

(The family story above is as I remember it; some details that occurred before I was born may be wrong. Consider it my "personal legend"! I'm sure a family member will come along and gently correct any errors.)

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