Red Beans & Rice

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Tinky

I have a bean.

Martin Luther King Jr. would have turned 80 this January 15. In his honor I’m preparing Red Beans and Rice.

Making food to pay tribute to a civil-rights icon may seem frivolous. The choice of Red Beans and Rice for Dr. King is not entirely inappropriate, however. It was one of his favorite dishes.

 

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Moreover, in an odd way, red beans are suited to the civil-rights movement.

Like that movement, they take long preparation and patience. Like many of the ordinary heroes of civil rights, these commonplace beans get together and over time manage to accomplish something quite wonderful.

The combination of the beans and rice, like the combination of races in our nation’s history, is complementary. When they finally join forces at the end of the cooking process, neither loses its identity. Together, however, they form a complete protein, just as the diverse races in the United States form a whole culture.

This particular Red Beans and Rice recipe is adapted from the formula used by my graduate-school friend Mike Mashon, now a Super Curator of Moving Images at the Library of Congress. In school we called him “Mike the Pirate” as a tribute to his extensive collection of videos of old movies, which came in handy as we studied film history. (Since the Library of Congress is one of our nation’s temples to copyright I should probably add that his videos were all legally duplicated for private use.)

Mike is from Louisiana, where I understand children learn about cooking Red Beans and Rice along with their times tables. I fondly recall his pots of this warm, hearty dish as ideal student fare–cheap, yummy, and nourishing.

Mike prefers Camellia brand beans and Rotel tomatoes with chiles. I was unable to find either here in Yankeeland so I used Goya beans and Whole Foods 365-brand canned tomatoes with chiles. Many of the flavorings are optional; I added the onion, garlic, and Creole seasoning myself. If you are a vegetarian, you may want to try the alternative suggested at a web site called www.gumbopages.com.  Instead of using meat, add a little vegetable oil to the mixture to replicate the fat in the meat, plus 1 teaspoon liquid smoke.

Mike cooks his beans in a large Dutch oven. He says they can take from 4 to 8 hours to cook that way. I used my slow cooker because it makes this easy dish even easier-no stirring involved!

 

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Red Beans and Rice

 

Ingredients:

 

1 pound red beans

1 can (14.5 ounces) tomatoes with green chiles

1 onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

extra-virgin olive oil as needed to sweat the vegetables

salt to taste (I used a generous teaspoon)

1 pound spicy sausage, cut into small pieces and quickly sautéed to release flavors

(Mike’s mother likes to use half sausage and half cubed ham)

Creole seasoning or hot sauce to taste

 

Instructions:


Thoroughly wash the red beans. Drain them; then soak them overnight in at least 4 cups of water.

 

Pour the beans and their soaking water into a slow cooker. Add the tomatoes and chiles, plus enough fresh water to cover the beans if needed. Quickly sauté the onion, celery, and garlic in a little olive oil until they are translucent. Add them and the salt to the pot. Cover and cook on high for 3 hours.

 

At the end of the 3 hours, add the sautéed sausage pieces and a little Creole seasoning or hot sauce. If you’re not sure how spicy you’ll want your beans (remember, the chiles and sausage both add some kick), save the extra heat for the end product.

 

Continue cooking on high heat until the beans are soft (Mike likes to mash them almost to a paste), another 3 to 5 hours. Serve over rice. This dish is even better the next day.  Serves at least 8.

 

 
 
 
 

Mike the Pirate (left) with another darling from grad school, Dan Streible (Courtesy of NYU)

Mike the Pirate (left) with another darling from grad school, Dan Streible (Courtesy of NYU)

 

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2 Responses to “Red Beans & Rice”

  1. Kathleen M. Wall Says:

    Tinky,
    This is what I’m bringing to a Martin Luthter King day party! I love red beans and rice, but so many recipes try to make it too tricky, too frou-frou. This one sounds just right. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

    • tinkyweisblat Says:

      Please do! It’s a great party dish. We’re still eating ours, but company is coming tonight………

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