Happy Presidents Day, and a little something for nothing — Red Beans and Rice
Happy Presidents Day. For federal workers and many others, Presidents Day means an extra day off. An extra day off is such a luxury, a delight, a bonus. So why doesn’t an extra meal give us the same thrill? I’ve never understood why some people sneer at leftovers. Do the work once in the kitchen and you get multiple payoffs, multiple meals. Think of them not as leftovers but as free food. Leftovers need rebranding. I prefer to call them lagniappe, the Creole term for a little gift or something extra for free.
Monday has traditionally been a day of lagniappe in New Orleans. It’s the day for RBR, red beans and rice. Used to be Mondays meant household washing day, when you didn’t have time to mess with cooking. Throw a few ingredients in a pot, and RBR can simmer all day, unattended. Time is its friend, and yours.
There’s an extra reason RBR is a Monday dish. Fridays were regular paydays. You’d get to take your salary, have a wild weekend. . . and not have much money come Monday. And yet, you could feast through the week on a pot of RBR. It’s not just beans; it’s lagniappe; it’s part of New Orleans’ soul. Louis Armstrong used signed his letters, Red beans and ricely yours.
The classic version comes with a little something extra you may not want — sausage. Not friendly for the planet, not friendly for pigs, not good for you, either. You can substitute plant-based meat, but many are highly processed and come with other unwanted extras, including soy isolates and GMOs, not to mention extra salt, fat and sugar.
Red beans and rice doesn’t need that something extra. Smoky, sludgy, stewy and burnished red from the beans themselves, nary a tomato, it’s a slow-cooked dream of a dish that’s delicious tonight but tastes even better as the week progresses. Plus, with Mardi Gras tomorrow, you may be inclined to overindulge. Nothing soothes and soaks up the yuck like rice and beans.
Dried beans are your great source for lagniappe. Bought in bulk, they have little packaging and keep in the pantry, so there’s nothing to waste. They stretch a dollar, stretch a meal and provide abundant plant-based protein and fiber. Beans even offer a little something extra to the earth by nourishing the soil as they grow. That means beans feed you now and feed you later, too.
Spurning leftovers doesn’t do anyone any good. We waste up to half our food. We can’t afford that kind of nonsense, and neither can the planet. Our carbon output is already way above the sustainable level. It’s the thing that’s driving catastrophic climate change. Every time you choose a plant-based meal, you reduce your carbon footprint, and when it means eating RBR, you get to have some fun, too. Happy Presidents Day, and let the good times roll.
Red Beans and Rice
- 1 pound dried red beans aka kidney beans, picked over, rinsed and soaked overnight
- 6 cups water
- 8 garlic cloves 2 whole, 6 chopped
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 dried pepper optional
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large onions chopped
- 5 stalks celery chopped
- 2 red or green peppers chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves from a few sprigs of thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 teaspoons of your favorite hot sauce more if you like it hot
- 1 teaspoon allspice
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 dried pepper crumbled or pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
- generous sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
- Rinse and drain soaked beans.
- Bring 6 cups of water to boil in a large soup pot. Throw in two whole garlic cloves, 1 bay leaf and the optional dried pepper. Add the beans. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Leave the beans to themselves for 2 hours, or until tender but shapely.
- In a separate large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the 6 cloves chopped garlic, the chopped onions, celery and peppers. Cook, stirring, until vegetables soften and glisten with the oil, about 10 minutes. Add the thyme, hot sauce, allspice and smoked paprika and optional and dried pepper. Carefully tip the beans into the pot of vegetables. Stir to combine.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium or medium-low, until you reach a very low simmer. Continue cooking, uncovered for 2 to 3 hours. The longer it cooks, the happier the beans and you will be. You need only give it an occasional stir. When you until you have a pot of creamy red and you can’t tell where the beans start and the vegetables end, you have achieved RBR.
- Remove bay and whole garlic. Season with sea salt and pepper.