Okay, so these aren’t exactly RED beans. They’re actually Cranberry beans, and they’re the closest thing I had to red beans in my pantry. I think they’re really pretty in their dried state, and they’re packed with lots of good fiber (if you’re interested in that sort of thing).
From the time I was six years old, it was just my mom and me. For about four years early on, we lived in a little two bedroom apartment, and I can still remember most of the meals that we ate like it was yesterday.
There was canned tuna on toast with melted cheddar cheese; breaded chicken patties, served with canned green beans (or perhaps peas) and macaroni and cheese; vegetable soup (made in huge batches and frozen); spaghetti and meat sauce, usually with a salad. And there was red beans and rice.
Looking back, I realize that money must have been tight during those years. A single mother raising a child on her own, away from a family support system – it couldn’t have been easy. As a child, though, it never occurred to me that our life might be different from anyone else’s. I never wanted for clothes or toys, and there was always food on the table. Really good food.
As I grew older, we moved up from that little apartment into a townhouse and then into a single-family home in a subdivision. However, our meal choices didn’t change all that much. The tuna on toast and the breaded chicken patties went by the wayside, but the vegetable soup, spaghetti with meat sauce and red beans and rice stayed with us. If there’s one thing I learned from my mother (and I hope there’s more than one thing), it’s the value of cooking at home, especially with inexpensive ingredients like beans and rice.
So now, when I find myself making one of those dishes, I’m always taken back to those lean years. I’m reminded that these are meals that transcend circumstance. These are meals that you can enjoy whether you have a lot or a little. They taste good, they’re easy to execute, and they don’t cost very much to make.
Now, when I was growing up, I think Mom used kielbasa or some other beef smoked sausage in our red beans and rice. Now that I’m making my own version of this childhood favorite, I use a more traditional sausage – Andouille. In fact, I had some andouille in my freezer that I’d made over the summer.
You can see along the edges where it’s kind of pink – that’s the result of slow smoking over a hardwood fire. Andouille is a pork based sausage, complex with flavors from thyme, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, garlic and cayenne pepper. It ranges from extremely spicy to fairly mild. The great thing about making it yourself is that you can control the heat. This has a nice warm heat, without being overpowering.
Red Beans and Rice
prep time: 2-24 hours
cook time: 2 hours
yield: 8-10 servings
1 lb. beans, soaked
1 cup chopped green onion
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 lb. andouille sausage, chopped
2 cups (uncooked) brown rice
salt and pepper to taste
- Place soaked beans, onions, pepper, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and oregano in a pot and cover with 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, until beans are al dente. Taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add sausage to the pot and simmer for another 30-45 minutes, just until beans are tender.
- Cook rice according to package directions.
- Remove bay leaves from beans.
- Serve beans and sausage over rice.
Even though my five year old doesn’t normally like beans, he scarfed this up. The sausage really does impart a lot of flavor, making the whole thing taste very meaty. In an effort to curtail the heat, we served the kids theirs without any sausage, since most of the heat is contained within the meat. P did complain that the broth was a little spicy, but he just drank some milk and kept on going. You could easily do this with another type of sausage, including a smoked turkey or chicken version. I’ve even done it completely without meat, using chipotles in adobo to impart some smokey heat in place of the andouille.