New Orleans Red Beans and Rice

Kidney Beans

If one had to choose a single truly characteristic dish of New Orleans, it would be hard to come up with one more renowned than red beans and rice. A dish that has been around long enough to have become established in local folklore, it’s also one that even today, graces many New Orleans restaurant menus. Vegetarians visiting New Orleans should be aware that “red and white,” as it has come to be known, is often made with spicy smoked sausage.

When I visited New Orleans back in 1985, I was lucky enough to find a rare meatless version at the I & I Creole Vegetarian Restaurant, which is no longer open. The chef and owner, had made a batch that day. Her “secret ingredient” was a bit of peanut butter, which imparted a rich, roasted flavor. That, along with a good dusting of cayenne, produces an excellent adaptation of this classic. This isn’t a dish to start when you come home from work at night! It’s not a lot of work, but needs time to simmer. It’s perfect to make on a rainy Sunday afternoon. Adapted from Great American Vegetarian.

Serves: 8

  • 2 cups (1 pound) dry red or kidney beans
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, finely diced
  • 2 large celery stalks, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 14- to 15-ounce can diced tomatoes (try fire-roasted)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 heaping tablespoons natural peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Several leaves sliced fresh basil, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Cayenne pepper to taste
  • Hot cooked rice

Sort and rinse the beans, then soak the beans overnight in plenty of water to cover. Before cooking them, drain the beans, then place them in a soup pot  with water in approximately 1 1/2 times their bulk. Bring to a simmer and add the oil, onions, bell pepper, celery, garlic, tomatoes, and bay leaves. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 hour.

At this point the water level should be just below the beans and vegetables. Add a bit more water if necessary to bring it to that level. Add the peanut butter, parsley, basil, and thyme. Simmer gently over very low heat for  1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

At this point there should be a thick, sauce-like consistency to the liquid. Mash a small amount of beans against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.

Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Cover and cook until most of the beans have burst and are very soft, 20 to 30 minutes longer. The resulting consistency should be thick and saucy. Remove the bay leaves and serve over hot cooked rice.

 

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