There are few things better in life than food in New Orleans – which is the reason it’s one of my favorite cities ever. I’ve been there twice now, and I still do not feel like I have had enough of it, and I am eagerly awaiting my third trip there. After my first trip there, I wrote in one of my past blog posts about the unique mix of French and Southern food, and some of my favorite restaurants in the city. And I am thankful that during my second trip, I was eating way more fish, so besides gorging on red beans and rice, jambalaya, beignets, bananas foster, and po-boys, I got to eat a lot of oysters and shellfish as well.
New Orleans food has definitely left a mark on both me and my partner’s heart, because we’ve decided to have both beignets and bananas foster at the dessert station at our wedding – with the caterers cooking bananas with brown sugar, vanilla, butter, and cinnamon with dark rum right out in the vineyard in a cozy spot! But besides my obvious love for their desserts, the other dish that really speaks to me is their red beans and rice. I have a special weakness for red beans, because growing up, my favorite food was an Indian curry dish made with red beans, rajma. Even now, every time I go back home, that is the first meal that my mom cooks for me. And while this version of red bean might be very different, it still has some very hearty flavors that are absolutely evocative of some of the Indian comfort food that I am used to. With the holy trinity of onions, celery, and bell peppers, and the flavors and smells of parsley and thyme, this dish with red beans and smoked sausage is a hearty, filling, winter meal.
Using dried beans is key in this recipe. And as I have realized, in my beloved rajma too. While canned beans might be more convenient, the possibility of a mushy texture by simmering them for too long really detracts from the experience of both dishes. And of course, it’s always good to be able to season your food yourself, instead of getting the seasoning that comes in a can.
Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker
- 1 pound dried red beans, rinsed and picked through for stones
- 1/3 cup diced pancetta
- 1 large yellow onion, diced
- 2 celery stalks, chopped
- 1 green and 1 red bell pepper, deseeded and diced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme, roughly chopped
- 1/2 pound cooked smoked sausage cut into 1-inch pieces
- about 10 cups chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- chopped green onions, garnish
- Place clean dried beans in a medium pot and cover with room temperature water. Allow to soak overnight before making the beans.
- If you don’t have time to soak the beans overnight, don’t fret. Place the clean dried beans in a medium pot and cover with room temperature water. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. As soon as the beans boil, cover, remove from heat, and allow to soak for 1 hour. Carry on with the recipe.
- In a large soup pot over medium heat, cook pancetta until very well crisp, about 6 minutes.
- Add the onions, celery, and bell pepper and cook until vegetables are very well done, about 8 minutes.
- Add salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne and stir to combine.
- Stir in the garlic, parsley, thyme, and sliced sausage. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until the sausage is well browned, about 5 minutes. Stir frequently.
- Add the softened beans to the pot, the stock, and bay leaves. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for about 2 hours, uncovered, until the beans are well softened.
- Taste and season with more salt or pepper.
- For a slightly smoother consistency, blend about 1/3 of bean and sausage mixture in a blender or food processor and return to the pot. This way, some of the beans will be ground smooth and some will be kept whole, creating a really lovely consistency. You can also smooth out some of the beans by mashing them against the side of the pan once they’re softened.
- Serve beans with white rice and a hearty garish of green onions.