It’s the end of February – the perfect time for a big bowl of red beans and rice!
Is there a better way to celebrate Mardi Gras? (February 28th this year; although celebrations have already started and should get into rowdy full swing this weekend).
Even if you have no wish to celebrate Carnival, we’re nearing the last days of winter and who doesn’t enjoy a bowl of comfort food on a cold, dark day?
As a native Southerner, I grew up eating red beans and rice. However, since I’m from Charlotte, NC and not New Orleans, LA, I can’t quite claim to be the expert on red beans and rice as I can on, say, collard greens.
However, if you’ve been reading my blog, you know I like to do my research . So….
If It’s Monday In New Orleans, It Must Be Rice And Them Good Red Beans. Eating red beans and rice on a Monday is said to be lucky. It’s also said that since Monday was traditionally wash day, women typically cooked rice and beans because the beans had to simmer a long time and required very little attention. A third theory holds that Sunday dinner usually consisted of ham, and rice and beans were a great way to use the ham bones and any leftovers.
The Debate Rages on … Ham? Or Sausage? Some people are emphatic that red beans and rice should be made with ham. An equal number of people are emphatic red beans and rice should be made with spicy sausage – preferably Andouille. Me, I’m emphatic we should just leave the poor pigs alone! Do some research, though, and you’ll find this is one of those amazing, simple dishes created by Cajuns and Creoles to stretch a limited amount of inexpensive or cast-off food into a full, delicious meal with the aid of little else but a few spices and their imagination. Very old red beans and rice recipes used alligator meat, and there are a number of old, fully vegetarian recipes as well.
What Are The Constants? Well, red beans and rice, of course. After that there’s the “trinity” – onions, celery, and bell pepper. Cayenne pepper, of course. Bay leaves and thyme. Other spices, like parsley or sage, may be added at the cook’s discretion.
But, Rarely, Tomatoes. Tomatoes rarely come into play in a pot of red beans and rice. There are a few exceptions – Louis Armstrong, who sometimes signed his name “Red Beans & Ricely Yours,” used a small can of tomato sauce in his personal rice and beans recipe – but also added, “if desired.” Interestingly, further smashing the “it must always be ham or sausage” argument, for “non-pork eaters” he suggested using chicken fat instead of salt pork and corned beef or beef tongue instead of ham.
How ‘Bout Those Beans? Red beans likely made their way to New Orleans with white plantation owners who, fearing for their lives, fled Saint-Domingue for Louisiana after the massive slave uprising. Saint-Domingue later became the nation of Haiti.
Note: If you don’t remember much from school about the Louisiana Purchase, now’s a good time to google around a bit and refresh your memory. Or, as the case may be (especially if you went to the Char-Meck School System like me), learn a few things. It’s a really fascinating piece of history.
Does Size Matter? Some insist they must be big; some say the smaller ones are more pleasurable. Fortunately, most of my New Orleans friends say size really doesn’t matter … We ARE talking about red beans here, the small red ones versus kidney beans. One thing is for sure, the “IT” brand in New Orleans is Camellia.
The Most Important Thing Is Take No Shortcuts. You cannot used canned beans. You cannot use a pressure cooker (it works for rajma masala, but not for this). You really need to take the time to simmer the beans on the stove – anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours – until the beans become very creamy, start to break apart on their own, and form a rich gravy. You can try to take a shortcut and puree some beans in a blender and add them back into the pot, but trust me, you’re not fooling anyone but yourself when you go that route. Yes, cooking beans on the stove takes awhile. But you don’t actually have to be standing over the pot, just in the vicinity so you can make sure your house doesn’t burn down. Is there really nothing on Netflix you don’t want to binge-watch for an hour or two?
So You Want To Make Red Beans and Rice, But Don’t Have A Recipe? I’ll be back again with a (vegan and gluten-free) recipe tomorrow – if the good Lord is willing and the creeks don’t rise!