This “no-recipe-recipe” for rice and beans is made with orange juice, fresh cilantro and ground cumin. (Sharon Salyer/The Herald)

This “no-recipe-recipe” for rice and beans is made with orange juice, fresh cilantro and ground cumin. (Sharon Salyer/The Herald)

We tried the ‘no-recipe recipe’ trend and didn’t hate it

If cooking without measuring makes you nervous, practice with classic beans and rice.

I don’t know about you, but to me this “no-recipe recipe” cooking trend is like driving without GPS.

Sure, you can get there, but is that the way you want to go, guessing and hoping you’ll find your way?

When I see one that says “just chop an onion” my reaction is: “Well, a cup? Two cups? What are we talking about here?”

The trend has been around a while, although it’s hard to find excactly when it started. The New York Times began using what they call “not quite a recipe” in 2014, according to an article they posted last month. Frankly, I can’t imagine Martha Steward embracing this trend, despite her kitchen know-how.

But when a special section on no-recipe cooking arrived in my Sunday New York Times a few weeks ago, even I decided to give it a try.

I was delighted with Times food editor Sam Sifton’s rice and beans no-recipe recipe. And there are a lot of reasons why.

First, it’s relatively simple. So that means it’s relatively quick.

Rinse the rice to remove any debris or surface starches. (Sharon Salyer/The Herald)

Rinse the rice to remove any debris or surface starches. (Sharon Salyer/The Herald)

Even cooking-adverse spouses, partners and kids can give it a try. (And here’s a hint to men: If you want to impress a date, offer to cook dinner.)

You can fix it just straight up: rice and beans for vegetarians or those observing meatless Fridays during Lent, or as Sifton suggests, adding in crumbled sausage, ground beef or lamb.

My take on “no-recipe recipes”: As a general rule, improvisation in the kitchen should be like improvisation in music: Learn it first as written, then add your personal riffs.

So I still prefer more traditional recipes, with more specifics on the amount of ingredients, and then figure out what additions or changes I want to make.

But Sifton’s recipe got me to try a new riff on a tried-and-true meal basic. And to borrow the line about Mikey in the old cereal commercial, “I liked it. I really liked it.

Give the canned black beans a good rinse. They can be a little gooey coming out of the can. (Sharon Salyer/The Herald)

Give the canned black beans a good rinse. They can be a little gooey coming out of the can. (Sharon Salyer/The Herald)

No-recipe rice and beans

Here is what you’ll need: rice (½ cup cooked is a serving), a can of black beans, onion, garlic, orange juice, fresh cilantro, ground cumin, salt and pepper, olive oil and sliced limes. The recipe will serve two people.

Here are the steps you’ll take: Rinse rice and begin cooking it. I prefer using a rice cooker, so figure on 40 minutes or so to cook it.

Wash the fresh cilantro and let it dry on a towel.

Give the canned black beans a good rinse. They can be a little gooey coming out of the can.

Chop the onion. I’m guessing I had about 1½ cups chopped, and I used a sweet onion.

Finely chop several cloves of garlic.

Some call this step “sweating” the onions. It’s just cooking them until they become translucent. (Sharon Salyer/The Herald)

Some call this step “sweating” the onions. It’s just cooking them until they become translucent. (Sharon Salyer/The Herald)

Add some olive oil to a pan on medium heat.

Add in the onions and cook them until they become translucent. (Adding a little salt to the onions can speed the process.) Add the garlic a few minutes after the onion begins to cook.

This is the time to add in meat, if you choose to do so.

Sifton advises letting the onions cook until they caramelize. I cut the cooking of the onions just short of that.

Add in the cumin. Since this is a key flavor ingredient, make sure it’s fresh, not a bottle that’s been aging in your spice rack. Obviously, this depends on personal taste, but don’t be afraid to toss in a fair amount of it.

This “no-recipe-recipe” for rice and beans is made with orange juice, fresh cilantro and ground cumin. (Sharon Salyer/The Herald)

This “no-recipe-recipe” for rice and beans is made with orange juice, fresh cilantro and ground cumin. (Sharon Salyer/The Herald)

Add the orange juice; Sifton suggests perhaps a ½ cup. Squeezing fresh juice would be optimal, as it’s another key flavor ingredient. If you don’t have time, or like me, didn’t think of it at the store, use fresh carton or bottled juice rather than something sitting on your refrigerator shelf for a week or so.

The juice has to be reduced, cooking down to what appears to be nearly nothing.

Add the black beans. I let this cook relatively slowly to let the flavors meld.

While that’s happening, chop the fresh cilantro for a topping and prepare any add-ons you’d like, such as fresh-grated cheese, slices of avocado and hot sauces.

Prepare to warm the tortillas or taco slider style bread if you choose to have them. Slice up lime wedges. This is another must-have for me.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com.

More online

A collection of Sam Sifton’s no-recipe recipes is available online at cooking.nytimes.com/68861692-nyt-cooking/14326423-no-recipe-recipes.

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