Monday, February 7, 2011

New Orleans red beans and rice

"Down in New Orleans
Where the blues was born,
It takes a cool cat
To blow a horn.
On LaSalle and Rampart Street,
The combo's there with a mambo beat.

The Mardi Gras, mambo, mambo, mambo
Party Gras, pambo, mambo, mambo
Mardi Gras, mambo-ooh
Down in New Orleans"

It's that time of year, folks. In just a couple of weeks, parades will start rolling down the streets of New Orleans and its suburbs. Members of parade krewes will toss beads and doubloons to hordes of people screaming, "Throw me something, mister!" And people will eat, drink, and be merry until Fat Tuesday (for afterwards comes Lent).

I may be a bluebonnet from Austin, but the majority of my childhood was spent in New Orleans. I have vivid, fond memories of screaming for beads and triumphantly draping them around my neck. The long strands were the most prized. Of watching the muddy, sluggish Mississippi River crawl past. Of savoring snowballs (such tiny, perfect flakes of shaved ice...the coarse shaved ice found other places just can't compare) during hot summer nights. The shrimp and crawfish boils. The food with exotic names that roll off your tongue like étouffée and jambalaya and muffaletta.

This is what I love about food. Food reminds us of our past. And food—cooking food and sharing food and eating food—food brings people together. A while ago, I received a package from a dear high school friend. We'd lost touch after college, but found each other again on Facebook. She sent a packet of freshly picked organic bay leaves from her tree. Just opening the envelope released the most amazing scent, clean and woodsy. Now they've dried and are ready to use. Every time I cook with bay leaf, I think of her.

This recipe uses 6 bay leaves. Don't flinch. It will taste amazing. Authentically N'Awlins. You'll just hear that Storyville jazz playing in your head as you eat this dish.

New Orleans red beans and rice
Adapted from various sources

1 lb red kidney beans*
3/4 lb ham, diced fine
1 large onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons Emeril Original Essence
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
6 bay leaves
2 cups rice

Soak the beans covered in cold water in a pot for at least six hours, but not more than twelve. Drain the beans, return to the pot. Add 7 cups of water. Place on high heat until it reaches a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer.

Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Cook ham in butter until hot. Remove ham from the skillet and add to the pot of beans. Add a little more butter to the skillet and sauté the vegetables until tender, then add to the pot. Add seasonings to the beans.

Simmer the beans on medium-low heat for around 2 hours, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender. Make sure the simmer doesn't become too gentle. You want the beans to cook in a fairly vigorous simmer. Add water a quarter cup at a time as the beans cook if they are becoming too dry. (I added 2 1/2 cups total of water). Once the beans become tender, you can gently mash some beans against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. This can help the dish to achieve a creamier consistency.

Salt and pepper to taste. Cook the rice according to the package directions. Serve beans over rice.

*Really it's best to buy Camellia brand red kidney beans if you can. You can buy them online at such places like I didn't and used whatever brand I found at Whole Foods.


  1. Yum! You're right about food taking us back. I love biting into nostalgia and I hope my kids feel the same way about foods they're growing up with.

  2. This looks great. I’m not a big bean fan, but somehow this recipe is very appealing to me right now. So I guess I’m going to give it a try. Thank you for sharing this one out.

  3. I know! I love making food memories with my kids. Statii radio, thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoy the taste of New Orleans.

  4. Reading your recipe, I had this sudden craving for red beans and rice, so I went to HEB at Escarpment Village and picked up the Camellia red beans. And also a sausage. There is something special about the Camellia red beans. I sometimes throw some in when I cook simple white rice and each morsel of them tastes just great. Very flavorful.

  5. Next time I'm in Austin, I'll have to pick up some Camellia beans! I haven't seen them here.


Thanks so much for commenting. I love reading your thoughts and responses.