Tasty Twists on the Classic Complete-Protein Meal: Rice and Beans 5 Ways

This is a post by Christine, Matt’s sister with a knack for vegan baking.  Today she’s bringing us something not-so-sweet but just as valuable: five twists on that old vegetarian runner’s standby, rice and beans.

Whether you’re new to vegetarian cooking or just in a beans-&-rice rut, I’ve got five quick and delicious variations to keep you fueled without breaking the bank.

A Nutritional Match Made In Heaven

The amino acids in rice and beans come together to form a complete protein, making a simple way to get both complex carbs and protein in a single vegetarian meal (though the “complete protein” thing is actually not important — your body pools amino acids and can combine them from several meals, so no need to always get them in the same meal).

Throw in fantastic versatility at pennies per serving and you’ve got yourself not just the backbone of the vegetarian diet for runners, but also a universal staple food.

Learning to cook hearty vegetarian meals was a process for me.  It started with just a “Meatless Monday” night that felt so good in my belly and my wallet that it evolved into meat just twice a week.  Soon everyday was “Meatless Monday!”

At first I followed recipes to the letter, but soon I began to recognize patterns in regional flavor combinations.  So today I’m here to share the tricks I learned about escalating ho-hum healthy food into nutritious ethnic cuisine.

I’ve got a standard five-ingredient framework to use for basic beans and rice, and then a five-ingredient update to represent whichever fare you desire: Indian, Mediterranean, Mexican, Asian, and even our local Baltimorean food.

Basic Beans and Rice Recipe with Five Variations

  • 1 cup dry brown rice
  • 1 can drained and rinsed beans, or 2 cups cooked
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil

Cook the brown rice in a rice steamer or follow the directions here.  Heat up the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat and fry the onion for 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and fry for an additional 5 minutes.  Stir in the beans and heat through. Add salt and pepper to taste.   Serve with rice.

Indian Beans and Rice

You’ll need chickpeas as the beans in the basic recipe, as well as:

  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies
  • a thumb-sized piece fresh ginger, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Stir the curry powder and cinnamon into the chickpea and onion mixture.  Fry for a minute, than add the ginger and tomatoes and their juices.  Cook on medium-high heat for 5 minutes, until the tomatoes no longer taste raw.  Stir the cilantro into the rice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Feeling fancy?  Serve with warm naan and a side of sliced mangoes.

Mediterranean Beans and Rice

You’ll need Great Northern White Beans in the basic recipe, as well as:

  • 2 stalks chopped celery
  • 1 small can (2.25 oz) black olives
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/3 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • 2 tsp dry dill weed

Add the celery and olives to the bean and onion mixture and fry for a few minutes to soften.  Stir in the lemon juice and parsley and heat through.  Stir the dill into the rice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Feeling fancy?  Add a can of chopped artichoke hearts and serve with warm pita bread .

Mexican Beans and Rice

You’ll need Pinto Beans in the basic recipe, as well as:

  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
  • juice of 1/2 a lime
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro

Stir the cumin and chili powder into the bean and onion mixture and fry for a minute to coat.   Add the can of tomatoes and lime juice.  Cook on medium-high heat for 5 minutes, until the tomatoes no longer taste raw.  Stir the cilantro into the rice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Feeling fancy?  Serve with a side of sliced avocado and warm corn tortillas.

Asian Beans and Rice

You’ll need adzuki beans or black beans in the basic recipe, as well as:

  • 4 medium carrots, cut into thin strips
  • thumb size piece fresh ginger, minced
  • 2 tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • small can (11 oz) mandarin oranges, juice reserved
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese Five Spice

Fry the carrots and ginger with the bean and onion mixture for a few minutes until the carrots are cooked but still crunchy.  Stir in the soy sauce and 2 tbsp of the reserved mandarin orange juice.  Remove from heat and gently stir in mandarin orange slices.  Mix the Chinese Five Spice with the Rice.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Feeling fancy?  Throw in some chopped cabbage, thinly sliced green bell pepper, and mushrooms.  Drizzle with hoisin sauce.

Baltimorean Beans and Rice

You’ll need Black-Eyed Peas as the beans in the basic recipe, as well as:

  • 2 cups chopped kale
  • 2 tsp cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp vegan worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn, thawed
  • 1 tsp Old Bay, or any Chesapeake-style seafood seasoning

Fry the kale with the bean and onion mixture for a few minutes until wilted.  Add the cider vinegar, worcestershire sauce, and corn, heat through.  Sprinkle rice with the Old Bay seasoning.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
Feeling fancy?  Stir in some chopped yellow squash from the garden, and crack open an ice cold can of Natty Boh.

All these recipes work great for leftover lunches too— just stuff inside a big whole wheat tortilla and you’re good to go.  I included a Baltimore version because that’s the region I know best; hopefully it will inspire you to apply your local flavors to beans and rice too.  Please feel free to post your favorite 5-ingredient version and we can start to create a regional reference for this amazingly simple meal.

This post is part of a series on how to start eating a vegetarian diet, for new vegetarians or endurance athletes looking to take their performance to the next level.



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  1. YUM! Thanks so much, Christine!
    .-= Nicki´s last blog ..Recharging =-.

  2. this sounds great, I’ve been looking for creative healthy meals that are vegan and inexpensive!
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Being kind to me =-.

  3. Ah! One of my favorite meals. Mexican beans in rice is a go to in my house. I also like making beans, spinach & rice in a tomato sauce. The Asian recipe sounds awesome. Putting it on my to try list
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Memorial Day: Spanikopita Burgers & A Winner =-.

  4. EXCELLENT post! Love it, simple and inspirational 🙂
    .-= The Ordinary Vegetarian´s last blog ..Quick Garlicky Soba Noodles with Asparagus, for one =-.

  5. This is brilliant. I’m printing this out and stapling it to my forehead. Thanks for compiling it.
    .-= Ed´s last blog ..Can you spot the lame joke? =-.

  6. Awesome recipes! I’m always looking for new spins on beans and rice. So affordable and yet, so tasty!
    .-= Jodi´s last blog ..Get More Done By Doing Less =-.

  7. can’t wait to try the baltimorean!

    here are 5 more: http://www.squidoo.com/rice-and-beans

    the costa rican beans are a staple at our house. 🙂
    .-= Heather Katsoulis´s last blog ..Baby Bee Buttermilk Bath =-.

  8. this is great! love all the different varieties :]

  9. Amazing how there is a bean and rice meal for every culture.
    .-= JoLynn-dreaminitvegan´s last blog ..Helen’s Kitchen, Tofurky and Quinoa Salad =-.

  10. Great ideas! I’m alway scrambling around when I get home looking for something quick, easy and healthy.

  11. Friday night’s carbolicious meal just got easier. Thanks!

  12. I love beans! what do you think of news articles like this: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/lectins/
    .-= Katherine´s last blog ..Tiger =-.

  13. Wonderful! Beans and rice never have to be boring, there are so many ways to vary it:)

  14. Great post! My mom is a new vegan and she’s the type who just eats lettuce and fruit all day. I have been striving to get more beans into her diet and these are great recipes to keep the variety going!

  15. We eat some combination of beans and (brown) rice more than once a week. I never get tired of it, since the variations are endless. These are great!

  16. Great idea for a post! I love your simple variations on the theme.

  17. Emily J says:

    Wahoo! Awesome accomplishment!

  18. We tried out the Mexican beans and rice tonight in our house and they were delicious. Thank you for the recipe.

  19. Sharon Purnell says:

    I am very excited about these recipes. I recently moved and decided I want to simply everything including my spice rack! I could probably live on these recipes. Thanks so much for sharing.

  20. wow this was a ridiculously helpful post! i keep thinking I need to include more beans and this will do it!

  21. I’ve now tried all of these recipes, they are all great. I did use green onions in the Asian beans and rice putting them in when everything else was almost done.

  22. The HAWAII version is AWESOME!!! I love black beans and rice. This is power food!

  23. Daniel Donovan says:

    This is a great article, I’ve used it as a reference several times! You guys should do more variations of the beans and rice!

  24. I have tried a couple of experiments based on the recipes in this post. Italian with cannellini beans, sundried tomatoes, cured black olives, basil and oregano; and Spanish with pink (also called navy) beans, green and red bell peppers, canned tomatoes and paprika. Thanks for the inspiration!

  25. I literally make the Indian version of these 4-5 times a month. Thank you so much for these recipes!

  26. i’m trying the Baltimore version for tomorrow’s lunch. i was born & bred in B’more and never thought of this combo – awesome!

  27. Janet Ake says:

    Great post!! I love beans and rice combinations. Thanks for some new ideas. Can’t wait to try them all.

  28. huh? I’m still confused here, I live in Vermont,
    I thought the article would be about 5 different kinds of beans. I only grow green organic bush beans and green organic pole beans. I buy brown rice.
    Am I o.k.? Am I getting my protein? I throw in other organic garden vegetables, tomatoes, pumpkin, squash, cabbage, etc.

  29. Clara Fication says:

    Writing that “[t]he amino acids in rice and beans come together to form a complete protein…” is a little misleading. Specifically, rice and beans each have an amino acid that, when consumed together, combine to create lysine, as opposed to every last protein your body needs.

    Most, but not all, animals have the ability to synthesize lysine. Humans are not in that group, so they typically receive lysine by ingesting animal proteins. If you’re vegan or non-pescatarian veg, then you’re not going to bite a cow, so rice and beans becomes kind of a mandatory part of your diet.

  30. Great basic recipes. I was worried about how to handle lunch at a big tennis event without eating overpriced salads every day. Just making any of these and stuffing tortillas solves the problem. Lunch is served! Thanks.

  31. bob Greene says:

    i decide to tray being a vegetarian wen meat mad me sick wen i eat it OS i jest quit eating meat and i fell better then i have in years and i’m a diabetic i got my sugars in Chick now and a lot moor energy then i had it jest a different to cook food that we can eat but i’m read a lot of labels wen i go shopping and i love farmers markets

  32. Wow, I love beans and rice and just decided to look for some recipes to see what was out there that could change it up a bit. Not vegetarian or vegan, I like my meat OCCASIONALLY. When I google searched I got Red Beans and Rice and Black Beans and Rice recipes galore. Thanks so much for providing something so easy with so much variety that provides a flavor in your mouth that seems too good to be true!

  33. im making red beans and rice to night wthe green pears and onion and garlick for super to night i lick to us chili beans in mine it give it a kick and i see some on hear i well betraying

  34. Dawn Baggett says:

    Just what I was looking for! Fantastic!
    Thank you for posting these.

  35. Sam Newell says:

    Hello, what size cans of tomatoes are we talking about here? like 400g or less? I don’t want to be wasting >.<


  36. Hi Christine,

    These are some solid recipes 🙂 I like how you keep things nice and simple and don’t use any ‘hard to find’ ingredients.

  37. Tim Carroll says:

    If you are looking to lose weight or are just a health conscious person, leave out the oil and use water instead. Also buy the eden so salt added beans and they also make the tomatos and green chilis with no salt as well. Comes out just as tasty. Great recipes though thanks.

  38. Kevin Flanagan says:

    Hi! These are great! How would you recommend I make these in a crock pot?


  39. I’ve tried all of these recipes & they’re great. Even though the basic recipe is the same for each, they all have such different flavors! Thanks for sharing them!

  40. Hi, great recipes! Yum by all means. I have a question. Do beans and rice make A complete protien or is it complete protien with all aminos and protiens?

  41. Dmitri Mosier says:

    I use pineapple in the Asian version, not much of a mandarin orange fan. I also try to vary my grain choice; my go-to is quinoa, and barley and kidney beans goes over quite well, too, but barley has gluten so it’s not celiac friendly.

    • Thanks for the pineapple suggestion, hadn’t thought of it (but only like oranges as a sweet fruit, never in my supper).

  42. My friends were talking about this wonderful website with vegetarian and vegan recipes. As busy homeschool moms, they were excited about a particular post of easy bean & rice recipes. I’ve made Mexican Beans & Rice and Indian Beans & Rice. Love them both! I’ll be making all of these before the week is over!!

  43. Juliana says:

    Thank u Christine !!!!!!!

  44. Hi,

    I also have a Greek variation. You need:
    450gr spinach, well washed (or frozen 450g frozen spinach)
    2 tbs olive oil
    1 red onion, chopped
    1 garlic clove, crushed
    50 gr olive, halved and stone free
    425gr chick peas
    400gr (1 can) tomatoes
    1 tsp oregano (or mixed herbs)
    Optional – feta and Greek yoghurt
    And you make it like this:
    • Cook the spinach for 5mn until tender. Don’t add any water
    • Chop up the spinach
    • In a separate sauce pan, fry oil then onion and garlic
    • Add olives, chickpeas, tomatoes and herbs
    • Bring to boil then turn down heat and leave for 15mn
    • Stir in chopped spinach (and feta)
    • Season with salt and pepper
    • Heat through and stir for two minutes
    • Spoon it into a warmed bowl (and add a spoon of Greek yoghurt)
    • Serve with bread
    I make this recipe with out the feta or yoghurt or the olives and it tastes yummy and I’m sure it would taste even better with a serving of brown rice instead of bread, enjoy!! 🙂

  45. I found your variations of rice and beans and they all sound delicious. My question is what is a lunch portion of rice and beans if I make one of these recipes????? Or is it a cup of rice and a 1/2 cups beans???

    Thank you,

  46. No one has mentioned the gas that sometimes results from eating beans. What do you do about this?

  47. This is my second day meatless, I am feeling very encouraged, thank you for sharing these great meals and the information!!!!

  48. Honestly… not bad for college peeps who can’t cook but there are so many more creative options that are doable for average cooks. Turkish Bride soup, coconut red lentil dal, Moroccan loubia, dal tadka… There is a whole world of different vegan and runner-friendly cuisine out there. Google is your friend.

  49. Elizabeth Sohns says:

    These are so great! I was in a rut of the beans and rice combinations I was making, and just adding a few (easy-to-find) ingredients makes all the difference. I’ve made the Mediterranean and Mexican Beans & Rice and both were delicious. Can’t wait to try the others! Thanks for the post! 🙂

  50. Catherine says:

    I’m rereading and can’t figure out how much of these recipes we’re supposed to eat ..like is it 1 serving per recipe or more???
    Please help!
    Thanks in advance 🙂

  51. Lentils and rice form the basis of almost all South Indian vegetarian lunches. I ate rice with boiled pigeon peas, cooked with chopped tomatoes and seasoned, and potatoes, for lunch. Sometimes, I bring cooked pigeon peas plus spinach to a quick boil and season it with a typical South Indian seasoning. We eat it with either rice or Indian flatbreads called rotis.

  52. Julia Pace says:

    Appreciate these recipes. Can’t find a print button or even a way to email it to myself. Now I have to copy them by hand. ugh but I will because they look really good.


  1. […] as far as protein is concerned. Subbing lentils or chickpeas for beans produces the same effect. These meals are a great way to load up on protein and carbohydrates after an intense […]

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