Red beans, also known as kidney beans because of their shape, with some rice makes the basis of an excellent traditional Louisiana-inspired meal. I learned how to make this Southern staple when Judy, Chris and I lived in New Orleans years ago when I was in the Navy. Louisiana, someone has said, is not only a state, it is a state of mind. We like to have red beans and rice in the fall and winter; it is even better when “breaking bread” with friends.
Traditionally served on Monday, cooks began making the popular, blue-collar dish early in the morning, and perhaps had put the dried beans in water to soak the night before. Traditionally, Monday was “wash day” in the Big Easy, and the beans and the other ingredients cooked slowly while the wash was being done.
You can start from scratch with a pound bag of uncooked beans, or do as I do and get a couple of cans of red kidney beans at the local supermarket. Dark red beans or light red beans, my palate is not discriminating enough to tell the difference; I think they taste the same. You could use one of each, for color.
Red beans and rice makes a very fine meal on a crisp fall evening. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the late Cajun chef and host of his own PBS cooking show, Justin Wilson (1914-2001), chuckling in the background, “I gar-on-tee! (I guarantee!)”
Here’s how I fix it:
2- 15.5 oz. cans of dark or light red kidney beans or one of each
2- 14.5 oz. cans diced or crushed tomatoes
1- 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1- 14 ounce Polska kielbasa sausage, thinly sliced into rounds
1 medium Vidalia or yellow onion, diced
1/2 medium sweet bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 sticks celery, diced
1- 10.87 oz. package brown gravy mix
2 tablespoon Worchestershire sauce
3 bay leaves
1 sprinkle dried parsley
Brown sliced kielbasa in an iron skillet with olive oil. Add bell pepper, onion and celery. When onion is translucent, pour onion, sausage and peppers mixture into a crock pot or slow cooker.
Add remaining ingredients and stir thoroughly. The onion, bell pepper and celery are collectively known as the “Louisiana Trinity” and are often found together in the dishes of that region. If you want a little more color in the recipe, cut a couple of carrots into “pennies” and add them.
Cook for several hours, stirring frequently, at least until things start to bubble. The recipe feeds six adults. Retrieve the three bay leaves and serve over hot rice. Let everyone add salt and pepper and/or hot sauce for themselves.
We like to have red beans and rice with a fruit salad or a tossed salad and a loaf of hot, crusty French bread. If you really want to get authentic, have a bottle of Louisiana hot sauce handy on the dining room table. In Louisiana, instead of using Polska kielbasa sausage, a local spicy sausage called andouille --pronounced and-doo-we — is used.
To complete the meal in Louisiana style, serve coffee with chicory as your beverage while listening to some Cajun music or zydeco or Dixieland. It’s all good.
Leftover red beans and sausage, if there is any, will be even better the next day after the flavors “marry.”
There are numerous variations of this Creole recipe available on-line, some calling for some Creole or Cajun spice mix. My recipe is easy to make. You can always add more heat and experiment to create your own variation of this Southern classic.