Variations of basic rice-and-bean recipes are found in just about every culture in the world — and for good reason.

These two staples can be used to easily create numerous entrees that are satisfying and offer a complete source of protein and other nutrients without needing to add meat.

Most grocers offer an astounding variety of beans and rice. Rice usually has its own section, while beans can be found alongside the canned vegetables, as well as in ethnic food sections.

Brown rice varieties are more nutritious than white, which have been stripped of the healthful outer bran. Brown rice does, however, take roughly twice the cooking time and has a stronger, nutty flavor.

While convenient, cooked rice in heat-and-serve pouches is costlier. To stretch your dollar the furthest, look for rice in bulk bins or large sacks. Kept in a sealed container in a cool, dry location, rice will keep indefinitely.

And for greater convenience, you can freeze pre-portioned cooked rice for up to six months in a zip-close bag.

Beans also are most economical when purchased dried and in bulk. But using dried beans takes planning, as they need to soak overnight in water before being cooked.

Canned beans are fully cooked, ready to use and still quite a good value, rarely costing more than $1 per 15-ounce can.

Before using canned beans, always drain and rinse them to remove the packing liquid, which can have a muddy flavor and often is loaded with salt.

This recipe for smoky black-eyed peas and rice cakes is inspired by the traditional southern dish hoppin' John, which is made with beans cooked in fatty pork with rice, onions and seasonings. The recipe makes enough to feed four people with leftovers and costs less than $1 per serving.

To complete the Southern theme, serve these rice and bean cakes with a buttered cornbread, sauteed greens and an icy glass of sweet tea.


Start to finish: 40 minutes

Servings: 6

1 teaspoon plus 3 tablespoons canola oil

1 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

15-ounce can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed

4 ounces Canadian bacon, chopped (1 cup)

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 teaspoon hot sauce

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups cooked white or brown rice

2 large eggs

1/4 cup roasted garlic-flavored tomato paste

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

In a small skillet over medium, heat 1 teaspoon of the oil. Add the onion and saute until lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

Add the black-eyed peas, Canadian bacon, parsley, hot sauce, salt, pepper and rice. Transfer half of this mixture to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped but not pureed, no more than 10 seconds.

Return the chopped mixture to the bowl and mix thoroughly.

In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and tomato paste, then add to the rice and bean mixture. Mix well.

Put the breadcrumbs in a shallow dish. Form the rice and bean mixture into 12 cakes and press both sides of each into the breadcrumbs to coat.

In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining oil. Add six of the cakes and cook until crisp and browned on both sides, about 3 minutes per side. Set aside and cover with foil to keep warm.

Wipe out the skillet, heat the remaining oil and cook the remaining cakes.