Growing up in the South, I grew to understand that both of my parents had eaten their share of beans during the Depression. With dried beans, cured pork meat, and some rice, you had an inexpensive meal to feed a dozen. And I suspect they did it with some frequency.
It was probably for that reason that we seldom had dried beans. We ate our fill of green beans, butter beans, field peas and snaps, but never dried beans. It was not until I was adult that I grew to know and love beans. My late mother-in-law was a master of the split pea. And I got to know lentils, and navy beans, and those colorful bean blends that Mainers love. But, it took numerous trips to the Gulf Coast for me to fall in love with red beans and rice.
It’s Monday. And in New Orleans, Monday was traditionally wash day. If you are washing clothes, scrubbing them on a wash board, and hanging them on a line to dry, what could be better than having a pot of beans cooking on the stove all day? I thought it was cliché, and then I had them at restaurants all over town. I had them between sets at Vaughan’s Lounge. I had them on Monday nights in bars uptown. They are as New Orleans as beads on Mardi Gras, but you can enjoy them on a weekly basis.
Of course, over the years of my New Orleans sojourn, I have taken up cooking red beans. Not every week mind you, but regularly enough that I don’t really need a recipe. However, for the rest of you, I will share. Enjoy.
- 1 pound red kidney beans, dry
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 bell pepper, chopped (red makes a nice presentation)
- 5 ribs celery, chopped
- Garlic, I go for a lot, say 6 healthy cloves
- 1 large smoked ham hock, substitute some cured ham, especially end pieces
- 1 to 1-1/2 pounds mild or hot smoked sausage or andouille, sliced on the bias. I like to brown it before adding to the mixture.
- 1/2 to 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed
- 1 or 2 bay leaves
- As many dashes of hot sauce as you like
- A few dashes Worcestershire sauce
- Creole seasoning to taste; or red pepper and black pepper to taste
- Salt to taste
Soak the beans overnight or bring the beans to a rolling boil. Make sure the beans are always covered by water, or they will discolor and get hard. Boil the beans for about an hour, until the beans are tender but not falling apart.
While the beans are boiling, sauté the Holy Trinity (onions, celery, bell pepper) until the onions turn translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally. After the beans are boiled and drained, add the sautéed vegetables to the beans, then add the ham hock, smoked sausage, seasonings, and just enough water to cover.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for 2 hours at least, preferably more, until everything gets nice and creamy. Adjust seasonings as you go along. Stir occasionally, making sure that it doesn’t burn and/or stick to the bottom of the pot.
Serve generous ladles of beans over hot white long-grain rice, with good French bread and good beer.
YIELD: 8 servings
For vegetarians (I cook them this way about half the time)
- Omit the ham hock, ham, and the smoked sausage.
- Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil along with the seasonings.
- Add 1 teaspoon (or enough as you like, to taste) of liquid smoke seasoning. The vegetable oil helps replace the fat you get from the sausage, and the liquid smoke flavoring helps replace the smokiness you get from the smoked sausage and smoked ham hock.