Renata’s Red Beans and Rice

My sister, Renata, is a fantastic cook. Unlike me, she’s humble and understated; she doesn’t feel the need to spray her accomplishments all over the internet. But she is supremely accomplished in the kitchen, and a master of comfort food. I don’t mean that in some passive-aggressive denigrating way. Hers is the kind of food you crave when the weather is cold and blowy and you’re feeling a little forlorn. It’s the food you share with family and close friends.

This recipe is for Renata’s famous red beans and rice, which is adapted from a recipe by Nuyorican chef Joe Quintana. It’s a real keeper, made in the Caribbean style with citrus and pineapple and plenty of garlic and cumin. Renata has made this a vegetarian dish (Joe Quintana’s version is made with a ham hock and/or bacon). I swear you can’t tell the difference. Renata likes to cook the beans down until the cooking liquid is thick and soupy and the flavours are concentrated, and serve them in this sauce over rice. I’m afraid that I made her mix the beans in with the rice, this time, as I was the Capo of the Fourth of July. Served this way, it’s great picnic food. And since it seems summer is finally making an appearance in London (fanfare please), I give you the picnic version.


1 pound (about 400 grams) dried red kidney beans, pre-soaked overnight

6 cloves garlic (2 cloves smashed or coarsely chopped, remainder minced)

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

About 2-3 olive oil

1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped

1 medium green bell pepper, coarsely chopped

1-2 jalapenos, seeded and minced (optional)

1 cup orange juice

½ cup pineapple juice

salt and pepper to taste

Juice of 1 lime

1 bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), leaves picked from stems, and chopped

2 cups white rice


Cook the beans in a heavy stockpot in enough water to cover about an inch  above the beans with the bay leaves, smashed garlic cloves, and spices until they are soft (about two hours).  If more water is needed, add additional water. When the beans are soft you may still have some soupy cooking liquid; don’t discard this. Renata says it adds flavour to the beans.

Sauté the remaining garlic, onion, pepper, and jalapeno (if using) in the olive oil until the onions are transparent. Stir into your beans along with the orange and pineapple juice and salt to taste (one to two teaspoons), and simmer for an additional one to two hours (uncovered) or longer, to allow the flavours to develop.

While your beans are bubbling away, cook two cups of rice. Taste and adjust seasonings. To mix, toss the beans with the rice in a shallow tray. Stir in lime juice before serving and garnish with fresh chopped cilantro. Or you can serve the red beans over the rice, like Renata does.

Makes 8-10 servings as a main dish.

21 thoughts on “Renata’s Red Beans and Rice

  1. I love red beans and rice! One of my all time favorite comfort foods. I’m pretty quick to toss a ham hock into the mix myself, so I’ll have to give this recipe a go, which would please my daughters who are both vegetarians now.

  2. That’s the kind of food I adore, hearty, homecooked, one-pot dishes, none of that little dot of pea puree or foam. Sounds delicious, though at first glance I must say this sounds quite sweet to me what with both pineapple and orange juice but sounds liek it would be great alongside savoury foods as a contrast!

    • Actually, it’s not really sweet at all — the orange juice isn’t really sweet, and it uses so little pineapple compared to the quantities of beans and garlic that it just acts as a tenderizer (one of pineapple’s enzymatic properties).

      • there isn’t any meat in this, you mean pineapple will help to tenderise the beans? very interesting! will give that a go the next time I make a bean stew!

  3. Looks delicious! (Except for the green peppers. I can’t abide them. But that’s just me and I bet red ones would be good.) Your description of your sister reminded me of our early blogging days, when my brother said: “If I’d known that pie was going out on the Internet, I’d have at least taken a bite of it.”

    • I think the original recipe called for red peppers. Renata made it with green peppers because (I think) where we shopped in upstate NY she couldn’t find red. I don’t mind green peppers but I prefer red.

  4. I LOVE it! Red beans and rice is one of my favorite dishes ever. You would think it would be bacon-wrapped foie gras on top of caviar or something, but I always feel like it’s the dishes like this that are hardest to get right.

    Pineapple juice is what popped out at me when I read the recipe. So unusual! I can’t wait to try it!

    Have you ever added any Cajun spice to it? Old Bay seasoning?

    • Alex — good call. I have gone back and checked Renata’s original recipe and there is indeed cumin and coriander in the recipe. Can’t think how I managed to omit when transcribing! Hope your beans turned out well.

      • They were very good! But they could have done with more cumin; I only added a tablespoon. Two plus some ground coriander sounds just right.

        • I’m really sorry — this kind of error is very rare for me, and quite embarrassing; I feel it undermines the integrity of the blog. I am glad your beans came out well, and I hope you cook with me again. Keep the feedback coming.

  5. Just came across this recipe whilst linked to your blog through the recent post on Ariana by Ute at Hungry in London.

    Funny, we’d just started to get into Jamaican food and I did a “rice and peas” in their way using thyme and coconut milk. Do you know what part of the Caribbean this version comes from? It looks great; a bit lighter and with more zing than the one I did (though I enjoyed it). I’ll try this very soon. Now back to looking through your back catalogue : )

    • Hi Adam,

      Thanks for the nice comment. I love rice and peas. This is straight-up Puerto Rican soul food. Nicely spiced, stick-to-your-ribs hot weather food. The red kidney beans are key; they get a lovely creamy texture as they’re slow-cooked. Let me know if you try it; I always love getting feedback.

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