After posting on a new tradition recently, it seemed appropriate to follow up with a post about an old tradition, one that, truth be told, I no longer observe: Monday Red Beans & Rice.
Where do old traditions go when they die?
Turns out this tradition is alive and well–at least according to the Camellia Beans Company--it just hasn’t fared so well at my house.
But it used to.
Only, not on Mondays.
Well, on some Mondays, but not every Monday.
Let me explain: I grew up in southern Louisiana, where the tradition of Monday Red Beans & Rice was started and continues to thrive. Like so many culinary traditions, it began as a matter of convenience. The idea was to cook something that could simmer all day long while the ladies took care of the laundry, which was traditionally done on Mondays. Red beans fit the bill. However, around my childhood home, laundry day could be any day of the week, depending upon who needed clean skivvies, so there was no need to set aside a specific day for laundry and beans. But we did eat the traditional red beans and rice once a week, if in a somewhat more random fashion.
It’s hard to argue with beans. They’re cheap, healthy, easy to make, and delicious. I’m sure that red beans and rice must have been one of the first meals I learned to make, but I can’t recollect the first time I made them. They’re just one of those foods that I’ve always eaten and always cooked, a food to count on.
And I’ve counted on them throughout my adulthood too, cooking them for nearly all of my friends at one time or another. When I moved in with Jim and became the primary cook in the household, I merrily prepared red beans and rice every week.
Until he balked.
Apparently, I make a lot of meals that contain beans in one form or another, and Jim started to feel inundated by them. He likes beans, but not every day. When faced with a barrage of them, Jim became, quite literally, a bean counter. After one notably “beany” week, he finally rebelled, insisting that he could stomach beans only once per week.
Once per week?
I ignored his complaints for a while, but they grew increasingly urgent. For me, the crux of the problem was that Jim counted all manner of legume towards the final weekly bean-count. He maintained — wrongly — that lentils, split peas, garbanzo beans, black beans, lima beans, navy beans, and red beans were all the same food: beans.
But this simply isn’t true.
I concede the point that black beans, lima beans, navy beans, and red beans are all, well, they’re all beans. However, lentils are not beans; they’re actually more closely related to peas, and split peas are not beans at all; they’re … peas! Garbanzo beans? Ha! Peas again! At least as far as I’m concerned.
The defense worked for a while, but I eventually stopped using it. I can’t feel happy knowing that I’m cooking food that people really don’t want to eat, especially Jim, who is always so enthusiastic about my cooking. I ceded the semantic high ground, and scaled back to once a week our consumption of anything bean-like. And, somehow, red beans were squeezed off of the schedule by the worldly chick pea and the trendy lentil.
This is rather unfortunate because, of all the foods I cook, red beans and rice is the one dish that is most hardwired into my sense of origins. Never do I feel most connected to my–dare I say this?–roots than when I make red beans and rice. The smell of them cooking conjures up a chain of memories from my past. I feel linked to all of the women in my life who have cooked the meal — my mother, aunts, grandmothers, great-grandmothers — some of whom cooked and ate red beans and rice as the tradition mandates, on laundry-Monday. No other dish asserts this connection to me as profoundly as do red beans and rice, not even other Creole dishes like jambalaya or gumbo.
Generally, I eschew my Southern identity and live, paradoxically, in a kind of internal exile here in the South. Cooking red beans & rice, however, gives me a temporary feeling of belonging to a place and a culture that is, in its own inimitable way, Southern. This makes red beans and rice a rather unique artifact of my heritage: a vestigial aspect of my “Southernness” that I can celebrate.
Here’s a recipe for an old favorite, a traditional dish that deserves a spot in anyone’s weekly lineup.
1 green bell pepper, finely diced
2 stalks of celery, finely diced
1 medium white onion, finely diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/2 lb. smoked sauced, preferably Conecah brand; cut links lengthwise into quarters, then into 1/4-1/2 inch pieces
1 pound of dried red beans, preferably Camellia brand
8-10 cups of water
Hot sauce, preferably Crystal brand, to taste
1 large handful of Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
Salt & Pepper
Although a lot of the bean recipes stipulate a lengthy presoak for the beans, I never do this. The recipe on the back of the package of Camellia red beans, surely a reliable source of bean information, does not include this step either. However, you should rinse the beans and carefully pick out the duds.
Sauté the “holy trinity” (what folks in Louisiana call the combination of bell pepper, celery, and onion), the garlic, and about 1/4 of the sausage in olive oil over medium-high heat until vegetables are soft. Add the red beans and cover with around 8 cups of water. Stir and bring to a boil. Lower heat to low and simmer for about 2 hours (but sometimes as long as 4, depending upon the age of the beans), stirring occasionally. It may be necessary to add water to keep the beans covered. When the beans begin to soften, add the remaining sausage and stir more frequently. You want the beans to be thick and creamy, and stirring will help you to achieve this quality. Just before serving, add the parsley, hot sauce, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve over white rice. I wish I liked brown rice with this– yes, it’s healthier– but I always serve red beans with white rice because it’s traditional. To wit–
Steamed White Rice
Steamed white rice is easy to make, but it’s also easy to make badly. Practice makes perfect. The ratio of rice to water is 1 to 2; this recipe is easily doubled.
1 cup long grain white rice
A scant 2 cups of filtered water, err on the side of less as opposed to more
1 tsp. salt
1 tbs. butter
Put all of the ingredients in a large covered saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce temperature to low. Steam, without opening the pot’s lid, for 20 minutes. Turn off heat. Leave the pot on the warm burner for an additional 10 minutes. Remove lid; gently fluff rice with a fork before serving.