Red Beans and Rice

This is the one that started it all, the very first beans and rice recipe I ever made.

I didn't grow up eating beans and rice, unless you count the Taco Bell that opened up between my house and the high school in the mid 1970s. I'm sure that was my first encounter with refried beans, since the closest thing we had to Mexican food at home was the Ortega box dinner with the hard taco shells and pouch of 'taco seasoning.' Hey, it was Central Indiana. What can I say, other than I loved the heck out of it (and Taco Bell, too.)

Red beans and rice. Very nice!
The first time I ate anything resembling real beans and rice was probably in the 1990s. Somewhere around that time I picked up this recipe. I've been working off the same index card (in my illegible scrawl) so long that I can't remember where this recipe came from or when I first made it. But it's been a family favorite for at least 20 years. I think that 's a good sign.

When this recipe first went into heavy dinner rotation, there was a shop in town that made divine garlic and fennel sausage. It was perfect in this dish! These days I'm pretty much stuck with the ubiquitous Johnsonville sweet Italian, but if I add some extra garlic and crushed fennel seeds, it comes pretty darned close.

Disclaimer: Just so you know, this is not supposed to be an authentic recipe of any regional or ethnic cuisine. It's a simple recipe that everyone in my house will eat, and I can get it on the table in less than an hour under ideal circumstances.

Red Beans and Rice
Makes: 2 - 4 servings
Time: 45 - 60 mins. depending on how fast you can chop and how long you can let it simmer.


Cooked brown rice

1 lb Italian-style sausage, removed from casing (see note)
1 Tblsp oil
1 cup onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup bell peppers*, diced (your choice of colors)
1/2 cup carrot, diced (opt.)
1 Tblsp garlic, minced/crushed
1 Tblsp ground cumin
1.5 cups chicken stock or water
1 - 14.5 oz can red or pink beans, drained (see note)
1 - 14.5 oz can diced or crushed tomatoes (don't drain)
2 Tblsp tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 tsp crushed fennel seeds (opt.)
1+ Tblsp Worcestershire sauce (use more instead of adding salt)
1 tsp garlic powder (opt., if your sausage isn't garlicky enough)
Ground black pepper, to taste
Hot sauce, crushed red pepper flakes, or Asian chili garlic sauce to taste (see note)
Note: You can tweak the proportions of sausage and beans. When I was in full Flexitarian mode, I cut the sausage as low as 1/4 lb and added another can of beans. As for heat, add crushed red pepper flakes with the rest of the seasonings, but if using hot sauce or chili garlic paste, wait until the mixture has cooked down to preferred thickness, then add to taste.

Cook sausage in 1 Tblsp oil over medium heat until the pink is gone and it's nice and crumbly. Leave as much of the the grease in the pan as  you want.
Add the onions, celery, peppers, carrots, and garlic; cook until everything is really softened and starts to caramelize. The finer you chop your vegs, the faster this will go. Stir in the cumin and cook for a few seconds until you can really smell it.

Add 1.5 cups chicken stock, beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, and remaining seasonings; heat to boiling then reduce to a simmer. Add more stock/water if needed so it can gently simmer, uncovered, until the tomatoes are broken down and the "sauce" is about as thick as heavy cream, at least 20-30 mins. Longer is better.

Serve over warm brown rice.
As with most liquidous dishes that require simmering, it is always better the next day. Freezes and defrosts very well.

*Random Food Tip:

I buy the bags of frozen mixed bell pepper strips instead of fresh bell peppers. (I pick out the green ones because I hate them, but don't tell, ok?) I started this behavior some years back when the price of bell peppers was ridiculously high, and I never got around to doing another cost comparison. I love having bell peppers available at all times, though, so I doubt I'll go back to fresh anytime soon.



A Year of Beans and Rice: Intro

Howdy, y'alls! It's been awhile, I know. If it's any consolation, I think of you often but I have a hard time putting virtual pen to paper. Believe me, it's not you, it's me. But I'm sure you've heard that line before.

ENNY-hooze, I eat a lot of beans and rice. They're cheap, it's easy to keep the main ingredients on hand, and I can usually get the meal on the table in less than 45 minutes if I have frozen cooked (brown) rice on hand (see below.) I have a short attention span and my main motivation to cook is to eat (as quickly as possible) something that qualifies are real food and tastes good, and most anything made with already-cooked rice and canned beans is going to meet that criteria. As a bonus, leftovers can (usually) be frozen, so make a double batch and get two meals for the effort of one.

If this sounds like a good idea, read on, my friend.

Since this a year of anything qualifies as A Project, I have to have A Plan, right? My plan is to post twice a month. Many of my favorite rice/bean recipes are already posted here, but I'm going to revisit them and tweak them if necessary. That will give me a few weeks' grace if the well starts to run dry. Not that that would ever happen... ahem. There may even be photos!

About that rice thing:

I've mentioned before that long-grain brown is my rice style of choice (most of the time.) Brown rice takes significantly longer to cook than white rice, and this is where my rice cooker shines. Every couple of weeks I set up a batch of brown rice in the cooker, wander off and get into all sorts of trouble, and when I remember to check it, it's done. I've also mentioned that I cook my brown rice at a straight 2:1 water to rice ratio so it's just done -- the individual grains aren't blown out. Then I freeze it in two cup portions in quart zip-top bags. Dump it in a bowl with a little bit of water, cover loosely, heat in the microwave for a few minutes, and it comes out quite nicely, thank you.

No rice cooker? Try this oven technique from Alton Brown.

And then there's the Dried Bean Issue. I've struggled over the years with varying degrees of success, but I've recently made some progress in this area, so maybe we'll talk about that, too.

Ready? Let the Year of Beans and Rice begin! I'll be back by the end of the month with a recipe, I promise.
(we all know how good I am at honoring those, don't we?)