As a child, I would never have imagined that I would one day consider a cafeteria staple to be a favorite comfort food. My first experiences of true southern cooking were in our school lunchroom. At my Louisiana public school, we had a regular rotation of homemade lunches. None of those frozen, processed meals delivered just for re-heating. Fridays alternated between fried fish and hamburgers, with the promise of the one-day-only choice of chocolate milk. Thursdays, blessed Thursdays, were always fried chicken. But our school week usually began with a Monday meal of red beans and rice which was always accompanied by greens, cornbread, and a pear half with grated cheese in its center. Red beans and rice was traditionally served on Mondays back when the day was washday. A pot of beans was a convenient meal to let simmer on the stovetop while the laundry chore was accomplished. Since ham was a traditional meal for Sunday dinners, the left-over ham bean could be thrown in the pot to flavor the beans. Other meats can be added, with sausage now being a common element of the dish.
As far as our school lunch rotation went, this rice, bean, and sausage meal ranked rather low when compared with fried chicken or hamburgers. It was reliable and I understood its place was that like dependable, convenient goulash in my Mama's meal rotation. I was a bit surprised the first time I saw red beans and rice on a restaurant menu. It was something, like meatloaf, that to me always seemed to belong to a home table or cafeteria tray.
The distance of time made them seem more special than ordinary and I was eager to taste the cafeteria classic again. I managed to replicate the taste and it is now a favorite in our family's rotation. It is a hearty dish that my children love and it is fairly easy to prepare. You can either soak your beans overnight or use the quick soak method described in the recipe below. And as Steel Magnolias taught us, this is a dish that will "freeze beautifully."
My Mama only used Camellia brand kidney and pinto beans and I am happy that even in Texas, I can get this favorite Louisiana product. Be sure to sort and rinse your beans before soaking. Keep an eye out for objects like rocks that can sometimes be in the package.
Here are the beans after the 1-hour quick soak, already tender, waiting to be seasoned and simmered.
Red Beans and Rice with Sausage
1 lb. dry red kidney beans (Camellia Brand recommended)
8 cups water
1 lb. smoked sausage, sliced in rounds
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1/2 green bell pepper, chopped fine
1 stalk celery, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups water
1 whole bay leaf
1 tablespoon dry parsley
1/2 teaspoon black pepper*
1/8 teaspoon red pepper*
3/4 teaspoon salt*
2 drops Tabasco sauce
1/2 cup chopped green onions
*Note: If you prefer, you may substitute 3/4 tsp. - 1 tsp. seasoning such as Tony's or Konriko for the black pepper, red pepper, and salt.
Sort and rinse the dry beans in a large Dutch oven. Add 8 cups of hot water. Bring to a rapid boil. Boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand 1 hour. Drain all the soak water.
In a skillet, brown the sliced sausage. Place browned sausage on paper towels to drain. Reserve the drippings in the pan.
In the drippings, add onions, bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Saute until the vegetables are tender.
To the drained, soaked beans, add 4 cups water and sautéed vegetables. Add bay leaf and next five ingredients. Stir well. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer one hour, or until sauce is thickened. Add more water while cooking, if desired.
After beans are cooked, add green onions and stir. To serve, spoon beans and sausage over peaks of cooked rice in each serving dish.