Monday, November 9, 2009

The Wash Pot

If you’re like most people, Mondays usually mean dragging yourself into work to begin another long week. For me, between the months of September and December, Mondays mean football and perhaps a plate full of savory red beans and rice. Well, actually, I could eat this dish any time of the week, but historically, red beans and rice was a dish prepared by the home cooks in New Orleans and across Louisiana on what was traditionally known as the wash day. A pot of beans simmered for hours while the homemaker tended to the household laundry. Once completed, a satisfying dinner would be ready for the family.

The inexpensive, yet filling dish is similar to other Cajun/Creole cuisines heavily influenced by the African, European, Indian and South American cultures. Local ingredients such as rice, beans, produce and seafood were coupled with seasonings and cooking techniques to create one of the most recognizable cuisines in the United States. A typical red beans and rice recipe begins with the Louisiana trinity, onions, bell peppers and celery. The hambone left over from the dinner the night before is used to infuse a hearty, smoky richness to the dish. Add garlic, herbs, spices and 3 hours on low results in a signature meal fit for a king (or queen). I often find myself craving the spicy, smoky delectable during the week, but am strapped for time with the busy weekend barely enough time to craft the masterpiece. As a result, I came up with a shortened version of red beans and rice excluding the hambone, substituting canned beans for dried and adding a couple of ingredients for depth of flavor.

If you’re feeling ambitious and have a taste for that authentic Louisiana soul of red beans and rice, try the traditional recipe below. If you're short on time give my recipe a try and add your own touch. Add a bowl of steaming rice, salad and crusty French bread and you have stick to your ribs meal for the upcoming cold winter evenings.

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice
“Louisiana Creole & Cajun” by Margaret Maring
6 c. water
1 lb. dried red kidney beans
4 t. butter
1 c. finely chopped green onions, including tops
½ c. finely chopped onions
1 rib celery, chopped
1 t. finely chopped garlic
1 ham bone with ham attached or 2 lbs. smoked ham hocks
1 lb. hot smoked sausage, optional
1 t. salt
1 bay leaf
½ t. freshly ground pepper
Dash cayenne pepper (optional)
3 c. cooked white rice
Chopped green onions for garnish

1) In a large saucepan over high heat, bring 6 cups water to a boil. Add beans and boil briskly for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and let beans soak for 1 hour.
2)In a heavy casserole over medium heat, melt butter and cook green onions, white onions, celery and garlic until soft but not brown. Stir in the beans and liquid, the ham bone or ham hocks, sausage and the seasonings. Bring to boil over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 3 hours or until beans are very soft. If the beans seem dry, add more hot water a few tablespoons at a time. Stir frequently.
3)Remove ham bones, but meat from the bone and return meat to beans. Remove the bay leaf.
Serve red beans with cooked white rice. To garnish, sprinkle chopped green onions over the top.
Yields 4-6 servings.

Danielle’s Quick Red Beans and Rice
2-15.5 oz cans small red beans, rinsed and drained
1 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
½ c. green onions, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1/3 c. bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 c. cilantro, chopped (optional)
1 T. tomato paste
2 ½-3 c. hot water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/4 t. thyme
1/4 t. oregano
1/8 t. cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt to taste
3 c. cooked jasmine rice
Chopped green onions or chives for garnish

In a large saucepan, heat oil on medium heat just until the surface shimmers. Add onions, celery & bell pepper and sauté for 3-5 minutes. Add garlic, tomato paste, cilantro and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Add beans, salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, water and bouillon cubes. Let the mixture come to a boil, then turn down heat, and simmer for 20 minutes.

Serve with rice and garnish with green onions.

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