It’s Mardi Gras time again! I’ve been craving red beans and rice ever since last weekend, when my husband and daughter left me alone for some much needed quiet time while they went back to New Orleans for the first parades. They came home with loads of beads, doubloons, stuffed animals, and MORE beads, and I was left longing for my favorite childhood food, Red Beans and Rice.
Growing up in southeast Louisiana, I ate a lot of red beans and rice; in fact, Mondays were red beans and rice days in the school cafeteria, and while other kids complained about them and made fun of their lowly appearance, I secretly loved red beans. After all, the cafeteria ladies made real Louisiana red beans, highly seasoned and so well-cooked that it was hard to tell where the beans ended and the sauce began. My Alabama-born mother, on the other hand, cooked something she called red beans but wasn’t. Oh, there were beans and they were red, each one fully intact and separate from its fellow beans in a bland sauce. This was not real Louisiana red beans and rice.
When I grew up and got my own kitchen, I was determined to cook my red beans the way they were supposed to be cooked: all mushy and full of spice. The first recipe I ever tried was from Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen. It called for six large ham hocks and a pound of andouille sausage and wound up taking two Dutch ovens to hold it all. I’d never cooked a ham hock before, and it was impossible to find andouille sausage in southern Illinois, where I was in grad school, but I made do with Polish sausage. The recipe turned out knock-your-contacts-out spicy, but I loved it. It was real, melt in your mouth red beans.
That was many years and a couple of lifetimes ago. Over the years I adapted the recipe, first to reduce the amount of meat (I had no love for the ham hocks) and finally to eliminate it entirely. In the process I lightened up the recipe, made it easier to follow, and made it all fit into one pot.
Real Louisiana Red Beans and Rice (Sans Animaux)
Start off lightly with the red and black pepper and Tabasco sauce; you can always add more at the end.
- 1 pound dry red beans (if you’re in Louisiana, only Camellia brand will do)
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 very large onion (about 2 cups chopped)
- 4 ribs celery
- 1 large bell pepper (about 1 1/2 cups chopped)
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons thyme
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1/4-1 teaspoon red pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1-2 teaspoons chopped chipotle pepper, in adobo (this is not traditional but lends a smoky taste; substitute another tsp. of Liquid Smoke seasoning if you prefer)
- 1/2-1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
- 1 teaspoon Liquid Smoke or smoked salt to taste
- salt, to taste
- cooked rice, to serve
- Cover the beans with water 2 inches over beans and soak overnight. Or, bring beans to a boil for one minute, remove from heat, and soak for at least an hour. Drain beans and rinse.
- Put the beans back in the pot and cover them with water 2 inches above level of beans. Put over high heat to begin cooking while you prepare the other ingredients.
- You’re going to want to chop the garlic, onion, celery, and bell pepper very finely, and the fastest and best way to do this is in a food processor. I throw the 4 peeled cloves of garlic in first, and then add the onion, quartered, and pulse until finely chopped. Add this to the pot on the stove, and then do the same thing with the celery and bell peppers, adding each to the beans. Add the remaining ingredients, except the salt and the rice.
- When the beans reach a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring every now and then, until they are completely tender and falling apart. This can take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending upon the age of your beans. (Add more water as necessary to keep them hydrated.) When they are completely tender, add the salt to taste, and check the seasonings. Add any additional spices you want, and cook for at least 10 more minutes, until sauce is thick and beans are disintegrating. Remove the bay leaves, and serve over rice.
If your beans are old, they may never disintegrate, or at least not in time for dinner. What you have to do is take out a bunch of them, mash them up well, and add them back into the pot (or use a hand blender right in the pot). Then proceed as though they had fallen apart on their own. I won’t tell anyone if you don’t!
Preparation time: 15 minute(s) | Cooking time: 2 hour(s) 10 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 8
Throughout this whole procedure, you should have a nice glass of wine. The spirit of Mardi Gras will not be stopped! Throw me something, Mister! Et laissez les bon temps rouler!
Looking for more Louisiana recipes? Try these:
Mirliton and White Bean Stew
Stewed Okra and Tomatoes
Chickpea Gumbo (guest post at Veggie Venture)
Spicy Collards and Black-eyed Pea Soup
Creole Black-eyed Peas
Gumbo z’Herbes with Cajun Tempeh Bacon
Black-eyed Pea Gumbo
Stuffed Eggplants and Not-So-Dirty Rice
Patty Pan Squash Stuffed with Cajun White Beans
…and many more in the Louisiana recipes section