One of America’s Favorites – Red Beans and Rice

June 29, 2020 at 6:02 AM | Posted in One of America's Favorites | Leave a comment
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Red beans and rice at a restaurant in California

Red beans and rice is an emblematic dish of Louisiana Creole cuisine (not originally of Cajun cuisine) traditionally made on Mondays with red beans, vegetables (bell pepper, onion, and celery), spices (thyme, cayenne pepper, and bay leaf) and pork bones as left over from Sunday dinner, cooked together slowly in a pot and served over rice. Meats such as ham, sausage (most commonly andouille), and tasso ham are also frequently used in the dish. The dish is customary – ham was traditionally a Sunday meal and Monday was washday. A pot of beans could sit on the stove and simmer while the women were busy scrubbing clothes. The dish is now fairly common throughout the Southeast. Similar dishes are common in Latin American cuisine, including moros y cristianos, gallo pinto and feijoada.

Red beans and rice is one of the few New Orleans style dishes to be commonly served both in people’s homes and in restaurants. Many neighborhood restaurants and even schools continue to serve it as a Monday lunch or dinner special, usually with a side order of cornbread and either smoked sausage or a pork chop. While Monday washdays are largely a thing of the past, red beans remain a staple for large gatherings such as Super Bowl and Mardi Gras parties. Indeed, red beans and rice is very much part of the New Orleans identity. New Orleanian Louis Armstrong’s favorite food was red beans and rice – the musician would sign letters “Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Louis Armstrong”. And in 1965, the R&B instrumental group Booker T. & the M.G.’s wrote and recorded a song titled “Red Beans and Rice” that was originally a B-side but later became popular in its own right.

The similar vegetarian dish Rajma chawal (which translates literally to red beans and rice) is popular in North India. Red beans and rice is also a dietary staple in Central America, where it is known as “arroz con habichuelas”. The dish is popular in Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Haitian and Jamaican cuisine as well.

A plate of red beans and rice with sausage from The Chimes restaurant in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Red kidney beans or small red beans are used and they are usually (but not always) soaked beforehand. Add celery, onion, and peppers to the pot along with a ham hock. Add water. Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer for several hours or until the beans are soft.

The dish is highly nutritious. Rice is rich in starch, an excellent source of energy. Rice also has iron, vitamin B and protein. Beans also contain a good amount of iron and an even greater amount of protein than rice. Together they make up a complete protein, which provides each of the amino acids the body cannot make for itself.

In addition, rice and beans are common and affordable ingredients, often available in difficult economic times.

 

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