You don’t have to be in, or for that matter actually from New Orleans, to enjoy a soulful, bowl full of red beans and rice, the quintessential New Orleans Monday dish. Nor, must you actually do laundry while cooking, although the origin of red beans and rice suggests that a “back of the stove” dish that simmers along mostly unattended is the perfect meal for “wash day.” It has also been written that the leftover ham hock from Sunday’s traditional ham influenced the Monday menu, in more ways than one, as the ham hock seasoned the beans.
Of course, today is not just any Monday. It is Martin Luther King Day and it is widely purported on the Internet that King loved red beans and rice. Being the theme queen that I am, I’m tempted to latch on to this rumor for the convenience of timing. Rather, I’ll share the recipe with Dew readers and the beans and rice with some of our homeless neighbors in the park in honor of King and one of his many protégés, Congressman John Lewis. It was Lewis, along with former Democratic Senator, Harris Wofford who authored and sponsored legislation to create the MLK Day of National Service, which, in my humble opinion, is a fitting and purposeful tribute to Dr. King and his legacy. The legislation was signed in to law by President Clinton in 1993.
I’ll also acknowledge that yet again, I did not plan well enough in advance to contribute more on this day. Last year, my friends Chrys Graham and Martha (Grace) Fagan and I just showed up at Samaritan House of Atlanta on MLK Day in hopes of being of service. They put us to fairly good use, but I suspect not so much as they would have if we had made advance plans with this very valuable charity committed to helping homeless men and women gain self-sufficiency. I felt that I was given much more by SamHouse and their clients on this day of service than I gave to them. We had the privilege of participating in a discussion with their clients about what Dr. King had meant to them and how his life had influenced their own. There were many moving words spoken and tributes paid, but I believe the loudest and most powerful King influence on this group was never said, yet understood: It was about hope. These men and women would not have been accepted by the Samaritan House program, which requires personal accountability, were it not for their hope that they too could “overcome” the illnesses, addictions, mistakes, domestic violence and various other influences on homelessness that had led them to need Samaritan House.
So share some hope, some service, and some beans and rice. And be thankful, especially for your washer and dryer on wash day.
Red Beans & Rice
First things first – it’s not too late to make this dish today thanks to the “quick-soak” method on beans. Total “prep” time is only about a half hour, but total cook time (including the quick soak) is closer to five hours.
2 lbs. dried red kidney beans (see quick soak method on package, or soak overnight)
6-8 strips of bacon (all you really need is the bacon drippings so you can enjoy a BLT while doing the rest of the prep)
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
4 minced cloves of garlic
A ham hock (size doesn’t matter much)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 – 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper – to taste, or a couple of dashes of cayenne sauce
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon of dried marjoram
1 beer (if you can think you can spare it)
1 teaspoon of sugar
Enough water to cover the beans (I prefer to add at least one cup chicken stock in place of some of the water)
1 tablespoon of tomato paste (more as a thickening agent)
1 package of Andouille sausage (6 links)
1/2 pound Tasso ham (failing to plan in advance as Tasso is not readily available, I substituted with diced pancetta and missed the Tasso flavor) The ham is optional.
White rice (enough for 6-8 servings)
Sliced green onions and parsley for garnish
Sort the beans discarding any off-color beans or small stones. Rinse thoroughly and follow instructions for quick cook method or soak overnight.
Fry the bacon in a large skillet (preferably cast-iron). Saute the onions, pepper, celery and garlic in the bacon drippings. (Set the skillet aside; you will use again).When the beans have soaked, rinse thoroughly and pour off the soaking liquid. Add the vegetable saute to the beans, followed by the ham hock. Add the spices, beer and sugar and mix thoroughly before adding the water. Add water/stock and the tomato paste. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer for 2 and a half hours. (Take a nap, read a book or fold some clothes). You’re allowed to peek under the lid and stir occasionally. Slice the sausage to a size you would prefer ( I like 2 inch links) and chop the Tasso ham into small chunks. Fry the sausage and the ham in the original skillet until browned. Add to the beans to cook another half hour. Serve over hot white rice. Garnish with green onions and parsley. This recipe will serve 8-10 or more. Can be frozen for future Mondays.