Red Beans and Rice

Welcome to the laundry day special. In the late 1700s, French-speaking Haitians began arriving in New Orleans bringing with them their recipes for spicy bean and rice dishes. Sunday being the big day of the week with dressing for church and the traditional meal afterwards, Monday got the bad wrap of being the day for the drudgery of laundry for the week. It also got saddled with the leftovers from the weekend. A tradition was born by slow cooking Sunday’s ham bone (or other meats) with a pot of beans. The meal slow simmered all day while the work got done. At the end of the day, a good hot hearty meal was waiting.

As with most traditional dishes, there are hundreds of variations. My personal version is fairly simple and follows my philosophy that meals are assembled. Let’s start at the beginning, the beans, good old fashioned red beans. Now, here is your first choice. Do you want to start with dry beans, beans, or canned beans? If you want to try the dry, you are going to need about plenty of time and water. Starting with dry means hours of simmering. If you actually have hours, this is a great place to start. Personally, I never seem to have quite that much time, so I prefer to soak the beans in water over night and rehydrate them. It is very simple to do, put a cup full of dry beans in a big bowl and cover with water at least an inch deep and let them sit over night. In the morning, you will have beans ready to cook. Just rinse and use. That leaves canned as on option. Since the process of canning technically cooks the beans, this is the shortest cooking time.

Rice can be left over or fresh made. The simplest rice instructions I know involves the 2 to 1 ratio. Basically, use twice as much water as rice. For example, if you are using one cup of everyday long grain white rice then you with use two cups of water. I start off boiling for the first minute, then I cover and cut the heat back to warm. In about 20 minutes, the water will be absorbed and you can turn off the heat and set aside until ready to assemble dinner.

I start the main pot of with a one diced onion, a diced bell pepper or two, and a couple thinly sliced garlic cloves in 4 cups of water. I let this come to a boil the back the heat down to between warm and low. It is time to add the beans. I just so happen to prefer one cup (or can) of red beans and a cup of black beans (black-eyed peas are tasty too). Have fun and do what you want. If you are using bones, it is time to toss them in and let them simmer. If you are using cuts of meat, you can toss them in now or wait until a couple of hours before serving to add them. If you are going to add sliced smoked sausage, you can wait until about 30 minutes before serving before adding.

Spices are really up to you. The standards are paprika and cayenne pepper, but any commercial spice blend you like will do. Remember, you can always add salt, pepper, and spices at serving, but you can’t take them out. So err on the side of caution. Add a little spice then stir and taste.

A few minutes before serving, mix in your rice. This keeps you from cooking the rice to death. Serve with a side of bread if you like or tossed with a bit a shredded cheese, diced green onion or leeks, or even crackers. The dinner is meant to be an easy, low stress meal. Bon appétit!

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