Food creates feelings and memories so strong that even a faint smell is like taking out a photo album (or maybe just opening your iPhone photo app?) and thumbing through your life.
Food is kind of like music for me. Like how certain songs bring you back to a specific place and time in your life. Maybe the intro to a Deathcab for Cutie song reminds you of a really embarrassing few months in high school when you were way too emo. A slight whiff of sherry reminds me of living in a little apartment with the best roommates and drinking cheap sherry on our stoop while we talked about life. Food and memories are intertwined.
Red beans and rice are a memory-rich food in my life. Some of my favorite memories, really. As a kid, I ate them out of wide, shallow, red & green ceramic bowls that were meant for spaghetti. I scooped them up with buttered New Orleans french bread and almost always went back to the stove for a second helping. We had them often: every time we visited my grandparents, our Christmas Eve dinner, or just any ordinary day of the week.
Sam also ate red beans and rice as a kid. On one of our first dates, he made them for me. We were two southerners living in New England, bonding over a shared love of the cajun flavors we missed. He taught me how delicious it is to sprinkle Louisiana hot sauce and diced Vidalia onions over the top. He even made a pan of cornbread to go with it. (I may have slightly swooned.)
Early on in our relationship, we invited a bunch of friends over and we made a huge pot of red beans and rice and passed around the hot sauce. Sam later said he was glad that one of the first things we did as partners was feed and serve our friends. It was kind and genuine, and I swooned again. I think about that a lot. When I’m not feeling gracious, when I’m feeling restless, when I can’t see past our little lives, I think about that pot of beans and the way that we shared something simple and familiar with people we love. Cheesy, yes, but nonetheless true.
When we moved to England, we knew we wouldn’t have our own place to live for a while. It was part of our plan. We’d hit the ground running, look for flats as soon as we arrived, live in an AirBnB for a week, and find a place as quick as we could. We felt certain that a week would be enough time to find a place to dump our duffel bags and call home.
We were hopeful, naïve, and completely wrong. Our search stretched well past our first week in the UK. We’d long gotten past our jet lag. Another week passed, and we were no closer to a permanent place to live. We started seeing the same faces on the sidewalks as we went to and from the university and nearest café with internet. I would pop into a little Turkish market on the way home from the café most days. I got a boost from exploring all the wonderful items on the shelves and imagining about all the things I could make when I had a kitchen again. I was wandering the Turkish market in the dried beans aisle during our homeless days and a bag of red kidney beans caught my eye.
When Sam got back to our little guest room that evening, I excitedly showed him the bag of beans and exclaimed, “They have red beans here!” This was likely the most positive emotion I’d shown in weeks, my happiness crushed under the weight of apartment hunting. I told him that when we finally moved into a flat, the first thing I wanted to make was red beans and rice. This plan kept me going.
A few weeks later, we settled into our empty little living room with bowls of warm red beans and rice and cornbread and our house felt a little more familiar and a little more like home.
My memories associated with red beans have evolved over time, and so has this recipe. We’ve combined and morphed the recipes we each grew up with into one new recipe that we think is the best of both worlds. It’s filling, spicy, warm, delicious, and occasionally swoon-inducing.
You can eat them with cornbread, soft french bread, or on their own if you’d prefer.
If you like these Red Beans & Rice, you might also like:
Red Beans & Rice
- 1 lb red kidney beans rinsed and picked through
- 3 tbsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 white or yellow onion chopped
- 2 green bell pepper chopped
- 2 celery stalks chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 tsp paprika
- 3/4 tsp cayenne
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 3 dried bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 9 cups water
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp of hot sauce I prefer Louisiana hot sauce or Crystal, but use what you like
- 8 oz kielbasa or andouille if you can find it!, optional, sliced into 1/4 thick pieces
- green or vidalia onion chopped (for serving)
- cooked white rice for serving
Dissolve 3 tablespoons of salt in a large bowl containing 3-4 quarts of water. Add your red beans and let them soak in the solution for 12-24 hours. Drain and rinse your beans.
Preheat your oven to 325F/160C.
Heat your olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onion, green bell pepper, and celery, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are soften, about 5-7 minutes. Add the chopped garlic, paprika, cayenne, dried thyme, garlic powder, bay leaves, and black pepper. Cook until it's fragrant.
Add water and red beans. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once it's come to a boil, reduce your heat, but keep the pot at a vigorous simmer for 30 mins, stirring occasionally. Stir in 2 tsp kosher salt, cover the pot with the lid and place in your preheated oven for 45 mins.
Take the pot out of the oven and add the tsp of hot sauce and the kielbasa. Put the lid back on and place back in the oven for 30 mins.
Take the pot out of the oven and check for bean done-ness. If they're not soft and creamy, put the lid back on and bake in the oven until done, checking every 15 mins.
Once finished, serve over white rice and garnish with onion and hot sauce.