Red Beans and Rice: A super tasty bowl
It was the summer of 1989. I was in Memphis, Tenn., on one of those trips that was a vacation for me and my two sons, but mostly work for my husband. On a sultry late-summer afternoon in Memphis, we found ourselves cautiously stepping through a back alley, with our eyes peeled, trying to find the Rendezvous Restaurant. A friend had told us we just couldn't leave Memphis until we'd tried the ribs at this restaurant that has been in existence since 1948.
Once we found the place, we followed the steps that led us underground to the dining room. We hadn't been seated long when a waiter came over and plopped a plate of beans and rice on the table in front of each of us. We looked at each other. "Uh, we didn't order this," my husband said with his Midwestern accent.
"This is red beans 'n' raaaaaas," he explained. "Red beans 'n' raaaaaas is free on Fraaaaaadeez."
This was my introduction to red beans and rice. I don't think I've had it since - not even when I've been to New Orleans, the red beans and rice capital of America. In New Orleans, they're often referred to as Monday beans. Monday was laundry day, and in the days before automatic washing machines, this chore left little time for meal preparation. A pot of beans simmering on the stove demanded little attention, just a stir now and then. Red beans and rice became a Monday meal in many homes.
Today, red beans and rice holds many attractions. It's a low-cost meal, offering a whopping dose of fiber and protein and other key nutrients. And, when it's made in a slow cooker, you can completely forget about it while it simmers gently under the cover.
I chop the onion, green pepper and celery the night before and store it in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator. In New Orleans, they call this mixture the Trinity, adding flavor to many Creole and Cajun dishes. I soak the dry beans overnight. In the morning all that's left is to drain the beans and quickly sauté the vegetables with garlic. If you are really pinched for time, you could skip the sauté, but I like the flavors that develop when the vegetables are slightly cooked in hot oil.
This recipe is designed for slow cookers with heating coils that wrap around the stoneware interior and cook at a constant pace, not cookers with the heating unit underneath. Those cookers cycle on and off, so cooking time can vary greatly.
The beans will be tender after about 8 hours on the high setting.
Set out a big bowl of hot cooked white rice. Pull out the crock of beans and plunge a big ladle into it. Gather up your bottles of hot sauce and chop up some green onions.
You'll be ready to serve a very hungry family or a group of famished Super Bowl fans.
Twenty years after that first bowl of Red Beans and Rice, I've rediscovered this dish that brings instant comfort on a cold winter evening in the Midwest. And I'm also reminded about why I used to love using my '70s Crockpot.
Oh, and the ribs at Rendezvous? Finger-lickin' good on Fraaaaadeez ... and every day.
Red Beans and Rice
1 pound dry small red beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1 green pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds meaty smoked ham shanks
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with basil
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
1 teaspoon chili powder
6 cups water
1/2 pound andouille sausage, sliced
Salt and pepper
Hot pepper sauce
Hot cooked white rice
Green onions, sliced, for garnish
Place dried beans in a large glass bowl and cover them with cold water by a couple of inches. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain.
In large skillet, sauté onion, celery and green pepper in hot olive oil until tender. Add garlic and sauté for two more minutes. Remove from heat.
Place soaked beans, ham shanks, sautéed vegetables, tomatoes, bay leaf, seasonings and water in 4-quart slow cooker. Cook, covered, on HIGH setting for 8 to 10 hours or until beans are tender. Add sliced andouille sausage for the last two hours of cooking. Remove ham shanks from slow cooker. Shred the meat away from the bones. Return the meat to the pot. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Offer hot pepper sauce on the side.
Serve over hot cooked rice. Garnish with sliced green onions. Serves 8.
Tips from the cook
--Andouille is a spicy smoked pork sausage with a peppery tang. Kielbasa or smoked polish sausage can be used in its place.
--I use Tony Chachere's Creole seasoning. It can be found near the spices in most grocery stores. You could also replace it with more chili powder or create your own Creole seasoning with a little thyme, basil, cloves or allspice and cayenne pepper to taste.
--If you want to keep this meal meatless, create the smoky flavor that the meat would give by adding chipotle pepper sauce or some smoked paprika. Remember that smoked paprika can be sweet (dulce) or hot (picante), so use accordingly.
--Dried small red beans can be found in well-stocked grocery stores. I sometimes find them in the Mexican food aisle. Red kidney beans would be an alternative.