Chickpeas…garbanzo beans…cecis… no matter what you call them, these legumes are high in protein and fiber and are great for cooking. In my family, we knew them as the Italian cecis (pronounced “chee-chees”). From the can, soaked overnight, or kept dry and snacked on like nuts, cecis are versatile and don’t have to be restricted to hummus or a salad topping. Mixed with rice, tomatoes, and spices, they evolve into a great, simple Lenten supper.
This dinner is one of my staples. I make it often, because it’s just so easy. I begin by chopping up the tomatoes, pepper, and onion and cooking them down in some olive oil and garlic. After adding a few spices, I drain and rinse the ceci beans, then add them to tomato mixture and heat until they’re cooked through. Lastly, I add in the rice and mix until everything is incorporated. Of course, I finish the dish with a drizzle of olive oil!
For the rice, I always use the same brand – Uncle Ben’s converted original rice. I’ll often cook rice in a rice cooker, but for this dish I’ve adopted the method that my mother always used… boiling the rice in water just like she would do with pasta. While I always joke that she’s “boiling all the nutrients out,” I know that a little bit of extra water goes a long way for this meal. I’m always sure to save a little bit of the pasta water (or in this case, rice water) before draining, because the starch in the water adds flavor and thickness to the dish and keeps it from drying out. The final product is delicious, straightforward, and great as a side dish or main meal.
It’s difficult to cook with rice during Lent and not think about the seasonal rice bowls. I’m sure many of us remember the small cardboard containers from Catholic Relief Services, inspiring us to give sacrificial donations to those most in need. In grade school, I recall a Lenten box in each of our classrooms, serving as a reminder of our obligation to take care of the poor and reach out to them in a very real way. The money we saved from the things we gave up (usually candy), was deposited into that rice bowl, and introduced to us the Lenten pillar of almsgiving. That collective memory put us in solidarity with those in our world who suffer economic poverty. It reminded us of who we are and where we came from in addition to reminding us to pray, fast and give. I hope that as you cook this Lenten season, you do so with a certain mindfulness that allows you to remember and inspires you to give of yourself in a meaningful way.
Ceci Beans and Rice
- 4 ripe plum tomatoes (peeled and diced)
- 1 medium onion (diced)
- 4 cloves garlic (chopped)
- 1 Jalapeno pepper (chopped-leave seeds for extra heat)
- ¼ cup olive oil plus one tablespoon
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- ½ tablespoon dried oregano
- ½ teaspoons black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 19oz can Progresso Ceci beans
- ½ cup Uncle Bens Converted rice-original
- In a large sauté pan, heat the ¼ cup olive oil over medium heat.
- Add the tomatoes, onion, garlic and jalapeno and sauté for about 10 minutes.
- Once tomatoes have cooked down a bit add the basil, oregano, salt and pepper.
- Stir and reduce heat.
- In the meantime, cook the rice in boiling water in the same way you would cook pasta.
- Drain and rinse the beans and put them into the tomato mixture.
- Cook until the beans are heated through.
- When the rice is tender reserve one cup of the rice water and drain the rice.
- Add the rice to the tomato mixture and mix well.
- If it is too dry add a little of the rice water until you have the consistency that you want.
- Transfer to a warm serving bowl.
- Drizzle with the extra olive oil.
- Add salt and pepper to taste. Stir and serve.