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Celebrate Mardi Gras with Classic Red Beans & Rice

mardi gras, red beans riceThere is perhaps no dish more closely associated with New Orleans and Mardi Gras than red beans and rice. It’s served all over New Orleans – in homes and restaurants – and is particularly celebrated during Mardi Gras. Red beans and rice is also the dish I use as an example when people say it’s too hard to eat well without spending too much money – yes, fast food is cheap, but red beans and rice are cheaper.

Actually of Louisiana Creole origin, red beans and rice are traditionally made on Mondays using dried red beans, vegetables (typically peppers and onions), spices and the leftover pork bones from Sunday night supper. It became tradition when Sunday was a day of feasting (often on a roast ham) and Monday was wash day. Although beans and rice appear in cuisines all over the world, the combination of red beans and rice has become almost synonymous with New Orleans and Mardi Gras.

As with most chilis, stews and braises, red beans and rice tend to be better the next day. I like to simmer a batch, then let it cool and stash it in the fridge to reheat the next day. It’s also a perfect dish for the slow cooker – put everything in in the morning and let it simmer while you’re at work or school. At dinnertime, all you need to make is a pot of rice.

Classic Red Beans & Rice

Sausage is often served alongside red beans and rice – cooking it in with the beans infuses the dish with flavor. Make it vegetarian or vegan by omitting the meat altogether.

canola or olive oil, for cooking
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 lb (454 g) fully cooked sausage, such as kielbasa, sliced (optional)
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 red or yellow pepper, seeded and chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped
4 cups (1 L) cooked red kidney beans, or 2 19 oz (540 mL) cans, drained
4-5 plum tomatoes, chopped, or 1 14 oz (398 mL) can diced or stewed tomatoes
1-2 tsp. (5-10 mL) Cajun or Creole seasoning

steamed rice, for serving

Heat a drizzle of oil in a large saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onion and sausage and sauté for about 10 minutes, until the onion starts to turn golden. Add the celery, red pepper and garlic and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Add the beans, tomatoes and Cajun or Creole seasoning, bring to a simmer, turn the heat down, cover and cook for about an hour, until nice and thick. (Add a little water, stock or tomato juice if it’s too thick.)

If you like, cool the mixture down and refrigerate overnight, then reheat it after a day or two. Serve hot, over rice. Serves 4-6.

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