Red beans and rice are one of the most enduring images from my childhood. While never staying overnight to catch the annual 8 a.m. Zulu Parade on St. Charles, those who live in St. Louis have always marked Fat Tuesday with colorful Mardi Gras beads, flags, hot chocolate, king cakes and red beans & rice. Red beans & rice are also one of the few holiday foods that is served at my relatives’ homes as it’s an easy preparation and they make delicious tasting food. We have tried it time and again and our family enjoys this traditional southern dish. I hope you give these easy to prepare, healthy and yet exciting recipe a try next time you are in the mood for a great taste.
I’ve been trying to come up with new ways to incorporate red beans into my diet and recipes. The search for “new style” cooking has been frustrating and trying to recreate popular dishes like my grandmother’s homemade shrimp gumbo and even chicken gumbo have proven to be disastrous at times. But every time I come across a New Orleans style dish with red beans, I can’t help but succumb.
I was delighted when one day I found an outstanding southern recipe in Menaul, Louisiana called Red Bean Casserole. It sounded almost too good to be true, but after reading the terrific ingredients list and cautious cooking advice it seemed like a promising new direction to take. I went ahead and gave it a try. I wasn’t disappointed. The spices added were a real surprise, but the red beans were the real star. The dish turned out to be spicy and delicious, but not overpowered and I didn’t feel like I had to take a lot of care in cooking the dish – it was easy, quick and a real treat.
After making the red beans and rice for the first time several friends and family have asked me to make it again. To my surprise it is equally as tasty as the first time. I usually use a pressure cooker to cook the rice and red beans, but sometimes I will use a stovetop cooker, depending on the day. The key is to not overcook them – they need to be tender enough to eat while they are in the pot.
I usually use four cups of dry red beans trimmed into ribbons. If I use chopped dried beans, they will tend to get mushy – much like beans in a chili. Use fresh or dried red beans and then break them into their desired size. Put the beans in a pot of boiling water and stir to combine. Then I add one tablespoon of bacon fat (or cooking spray if I don’t have any) and let the red beans simmer on a low heat for about three hours.
At one hour, I take the pot off of the heat, strain the beans, and add the chopped vegetables and any meat you want to include. If I’m using ground beef, I use a nice piece of bison jerky along with the red beans. When the meat is cooked, I drain off the grease, rinse under cold water, and fold in the cooked meat. Then I add the rest of the seasonings and let simmer on the stove top for an additional thirty minutes. At the end, I sprinkle some paprika all over (much like I do with my pepperoni pizza) and serve up on high with some bread and rolls.
In the meantime, if I am going to make a ham or turkey sausage, I do so half. I add the dried beans to the cooked ham or turkey and use a whole can of whole milk to cook the mixture until it is fully blended. Then I add the dried onions and a can or two of tomatoes, and simmer for another couple of hours. By this time, the beans are soft but not mushy. I then puree the mixture with some of the remaining tomatoes, some red pepper flakes, and a bit of salt and pepper and form into one smooth paste, which I heat in my oil cooker.
Then I simply add the beans and a bit of the tomato paste to my steamer and simmer away for about two hours. At that point, I add my chopped green onions and enjoy a delicious meal. The dish is best served with steamed white rice and served hot. If I were to make a dessert, which might be easier said than done, I would use frozen cherries in the mix along with some dried pineapple and yogurt to create a cherry berry-flavored pudding. It is extremely rich and goes great as a dessert after the main course.