As a Louisiana girl, I consider slow-cooked red beans and rice part of my cultural heritage, as much a part of my childhood as climbing too high in the live oak trees and eating watermelon at the picnic table in the back yard. I know from experience that it takes all day to make good red beans, and I would never try to convince you otherwise. Except, well, maybe I am about to do just that.
The trouble is, I get cravings. I start remembering the spicy, creamy red beans of my childhood and I want some–right now. But red beans is not a spur-of-the-moment, impulse kind of dish. You have to plan for red beans, putting them on to soak the night before and then cooking them the next day for no real set amount of time, just as long as it takes until they start to break down into a creamy goodness. It’s not fast food, nor should it be. Except when you’ve got a craving.
Truth be told, there’s a guilty secret that many Louisiana home cooks share, and its name is Blue Runner Cream Style Red Beans. For years when I needed a quick dose of Louisiana cooking, I’d open a couple of cans of Blue Runner beans, sometimes adding extra “trinity” (onions, bell pepper, celery) or tomatoes, sometimes just heating and eating them on a pile of fresh-cooked rice. For something out of a can, they’re pretty damned good. I used to be able to buy them here in Jackson, and then suddenly I couldn’t. When I went home for visits, I would often bring cases of them back to Jackson with me, but my supply always seemed to run out too quickly. So in the absence of Blue Runners, I started thinking about making my own fast-food red beans using regular canned beans, and after a couple of attempts, I think I’ve finally gotten it right.
Before you do this at home, there is something very important (and kind of scary) that you need to know about canned red beans: Many–or even most–brands add sugar to their kidney beans, making them unfit for this recipe. The first time I made this, I used the light red kidney beans I had in my pantry, and I couldn’t stand the sweet taste they lent to the dish. So I went in search of unsweetened red beans and had a harder time finding them than you would think. Both the store-brand (Kroger) and the national brand (Bush’s Best) contained sugar and dextrose.
Finally I found two cans in Kroger that were sugar free, their Simple Truth Organic Dark Red Kidney Beans and a can marked simply “Red Beans.” Of the two, the Red Beans are the most like the Camilla brand red beans that are used to make Louisiana red beans and rice, and they’re what I used in this recipe. Dark red kidneys are larger and have a tougher texture, and they can be used if that’s all you can find, but use the ones marked Light Red or just Red Beans if you can find them. Just please, avoid the sugar.
I can’t promise that these vegan red beans and rice will be as authentic as slow-cooked red beans, but they will be good. Of course, if you’ve got the time, please give my Real Louisiana Red Beans a try. They’re the real deal, as close to New Orleans as you’re likely to get without doing some traveling.
- 1 medium onion
- 1/2 green pepper
- 2 ribs celery
- 3 cloves garlic
- 3 15-ounce can cans red beans (no sugar added), drained and well-rinsed
- 1 15-ounce can can fire-roasted tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon thyme
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon salt (optional or to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 - 1 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper (to taste)
- 2 teaspoons hot sauce, plus more to serve
- Smoked salt or Liquid Smoke seasoning (optional)
- cooked brown rice, to serve
- Begin heating a large, non-stick pot over medium-high heat as you use the food processor to chop the vegetables:
- Cut the onion into quarters and pulse it in the food processor to mince; add it to the heated pan. Cut the pepper into quarters and chop it finely in the processor; add it to the pan. Cut the celery into 2-inch long pieces and chop it and the garlic in the processor; add it to the pan.
- Stir the vegetables well and add 2 tablespoons of water. Cook until soft, about 6-10 minutes.
- While the vegetables are cooking, rinse the beans well. Put half of them (1 1/2 cans) into the food processor with half of the can of tomatoes. Process until all the beans are coarsely chopped, just short of pureed.
- When the vegetables are soft, stir in the blended beans, remaining whole beans, remaining tomatoes, and all seasonings except smoked salt. Cover tightly, reduce heat to very low, and cook for at least 30 minutes. Stir every 5 or 10 minutes and add water as needed to keep beans moist but not soupy. Like regular red beans, these taste better the longer they cook, so consider 30 minutes the bare minimum and cook them longer if you can, adding water as necessary.
- Just before serving, sprinkle with smoked salt or a little Liquid Smoke. Stir well, and serve atop rice with more hot sauce on the table.
Most of the sodium is from the beans and fire-roasted tomatoes; using unsalted products will reduce the sodium greatly.
More Louisiana Recipes
Vegan Sausage and Mushroom Etoufee and more from my Louisiana Recipes section
Vita’s Vegan Gumbo at Vita’s Vegan Ventures
Cajun-spiced Dirty Rice from Lisa is Cooking
Cajun Lentil Patties at Cajunlicious
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