1980s family cooking: Rice and bean bake with Uncle Ben’s

Post in association with Uncle Ben’s

Do you have a particular meal that reminds you of your childhood?

Our family went through a vegetarian period in the mid 1980s, when I was about eight or nine years old. I’m not sure if it was an ethical choice, or whether we were just too poor for meat maybe, but I think vegetarianism was quite a thing in the 1980s. My mum has a recipe book I remember very well called ‘The Vegetarian Feast’. Inside the book she kept an empty Tesco brown rice packet, with a recipe on the back for a rice and bean bake.

My mum sent me a picture of the best before date on it as proof of how long she has had it tucked inside the front cover.

rice recipe

It’s this rice and bean bake that I would think of if you asked me to pick a favourite family meal from my childhood. This and Jaffa Cakes, but that’s not really a meal is it? (Although I did eat seven Jaffa Cakes yesterday, so probably should have counted it as a meal.) When Uncle Ben’s got in touch then recently to see if I’d like to cook a family meal that reminded me of home comforts and family memories, I knew exactly what I was going to make.

We talked about it on the family WhatsApp group.

‘I always use one of those packets of rice,’ said my sister, ‘it’s much simpler than faffing about cooking it.’

She actually said that WITHOUT PROMPTING, I didn’t set her up for it at all. It’s true though isn’t it? Wholegrain rice seems to take about two weeks to cook from scratch.

How to make rice and bean bake

This is what you need to recreate our 1980s family favourite:

  • 50g butter
  • One chopped onion (use frozen onion for extra time saving)
  • 75g sliced mushrooms
  • Can of kidney beans
  • Four chopped tomatoes
  • 200g frozen spinach, cooked and drained
  • 2tsp curry powder
  • 1tbsp of tomato puree
  • One 250g packet of Uncle Ben’s wholegrain rice
  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 50g each of breadcrumbs and grated cheese for the topping
When you look at it, you’d be forgiven for being suspicious about the success my mum and dad had feeding it to two small children. Spinach? Kidney beans? it seems unlikely doesn’t it? Trust me though, it’s delicious and it works. There is just something about it when the whole lot is all mushed up together in a delicious stodge that’s comforting and wholesome all at the same time. It’s mashed potato for the health conscious.
Uncle Ben’s rice recipe

It’s very easy to make once you’ve prepped everything. So easy that you could probably get your kids to make it while you have a small prosecco in the garden.

First up, preheat the oven to 180 degrees.

Melt the butter and fry the onions until soft, then add the tomatoes, mushrooms, kidney beans, spinach, puree and curry powder cook for a few minutes.

Uncle Ben's rice and bean bake

Stir in the rice, eggs and seasoning and turn it into an ovenproof dish. Cover with the cheese and breadcrumb topping and cook for about 30 minutes until golden.

I told you it was easy.

Uncle Ben's rice and bean bake

I FEEL like we’ve been eating this dish my whole life, but when we were talking about it in our family WhatsApp group, neither of my OWN CHILDREN knew what I was talking about. Clearly the reintroduction of the family bean and rice bake couldn’t come soon enough.

I decided to invite my mum over for tea to eat it with me and Belle so that we could reminisce over the old rice packet and ‘the good old days’ when we couldn’t afford chicken. Belle and I normally eat our dinner on our laps while we watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race so it was nice to have an excuse to clear off the dining table and get out the good glasses.

Uncle Ben's rice and bean bake

The rice and bean bake serves around six people and is ideally served with salad or maybe some bread. In the spirit of reliving the past I made another of my mum’s specialities – chopped avocado and cucumber in mayonnaise. I have no idea if this is a thing that other people eat or not but mainly it seems to be an excuse for my mum to eat avocado with mayonnaise on. She avoids the cucumber. I have no idea why she puts it in really.

Anyway, I like both so that’s okay.

Uncle Ben's rice and bean bake

One of the perks with this dish is that it’s also excellent cold the next day. I can remember being a child and sneaking into the kitchen to take a big forkful of the leftovers. The egg and the rice bind it all nicely together into a tasty mush but I think the USP is the curry powder – that’s the flavour that takes me back to sitting around the table with my mum and dad and sister, eating quickly so as to be finished in time for neighbours.

Do you have a meal that takes you back to your childhood? Perhaps it’s something weird that only your family ever eat or maybe it has a connection to a particular place or event?

Leave a comment and let me know.

Uncle Ben's rice and bean bake

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