Frugal Foodies Night: Vegetarian Dirty Rice with Barbera d’Asti

In Africa, a kitchen is a “sanctuary” place where local women gather, share stories and bond while cooking together. It’s a “forbidden” place for men, no matter how much they may want to cook. In the 70′s, Korea was also like that. If men were seen anywhere near the kitchen, they were shamed and asked to go get a gender change operation. Despite the rigid Korean social norm, my father often cooked in our kitchen behind the scenes. My mother, who was a health fanatic, usually made tasteless foods filled with great nutrients which nobody wanted to eat. My father, on the other hand, would use all the “bad stuff” (as defined by my Mom) and made absolutely delicious foods. Last week, I went to a communal cooking event called Frugal Foodies in Berkeley ( and teamed up with Peter, a Ugandan grad student from UC Berkeley. He said, “my Mom keeps me out of the kitchen. I don’t cook”. I smiled and took a picture of us holding kitchen knives and cooking together. We made a Dirty Rice, a traditional Cajun dish. In the Southern region of the US, this dish is commonly made with chicken organs to give a “dirty” color and distinctive flavor, but we made a healthier version using just vegetables. It came out so good that I think both my “health-conscious” Mother and “gourmet eating” Father would approve it. I think even Peter’s Ugandan Mom would enjoy this dish even though her son broke one of their social rules. Here is a recipe for this great “healthy meals made delicious” from Moses’ Frugal Foodies Cooking Event.


2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic (minced)

1 red onion (chopped)

1 red bell pepper (chopped)

1 whole corn kernels

1 15 oz can black beans (drained)

3 Roma tomatoes (chopped)

1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice

1 Tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoon annatto (achiote powder)

1 teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup white rice

1 ¼ cup water

1 teaspoon sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro (chopped)


  1. In a heavy saucepan, preheat extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and chopped onions; saute for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Mix in the bell pepper, chili powder, annatto (achiote powder), cumin and cinnamon. Saute for 2 mintues
  2. Pour the rice into the saucepan and stir to coat. Add tomatoes, lime juice, corn, black beans, water, salt and pepper and bring it to a boil over high heat. Cover the pan and turn the heat to low. Simmer it for 25 minutes.
  3. When the rice is cooked, serve topped with cilantro and sliced red onion.

I paired this vegetarian Dirty Rice with a 2010 Luisi Barbera d’Asti from the Piedmont region of Italy. Packed with tart cherry and raspberry flavors with notes of spices, this bright dry red wine has a high acidity and low tannin. It complements the mixed tomato and spice flavors of the Dirty Rice beautifully. I especially love the bright flavors of the wine and the earthy, sweet and peppery flavors of the Dirty Rice staying long on the palate in a great harmony. Yum. What a match made in the heaven. Enjoy this recipe of vegetarian Dirty Rice paired with Babera d’Asti. Happy cooking.

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2 Responses to Frugal Foodies Night: Vegetarian Dirty Rice with Barbera d’Asti

  1. Cinti says:

    One of the favorite dishes that my Mom used to make was the authentic “Southern Dirty Rice” chicken gizzards and all. Yummy! I haven’t had it nor thought of it since I left high school. I will enjoy making this healthy version but will have to substitute brown rice. I can not remember the last time I ate white rice either!

    Black beans are tasty but the strongest tasting of most beans. Is there a milder bean you might suggest substituting?

  2. 7th taste says:

    Hi Cinti, I think brown rice may add more flavors to the Dirty Rice. I’d recommend navy beans if you want milder beans than black beans. Enjoy!

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