Red Beans and Rice

I am a New Orleanian trapped in a Chicagoan’s body.

I just realized this as I sit here streaming traditional New Orleans jazz on WWOZ-FM while a pot of Red Beans and Rice slow cooks in the kitchen, filling the house with the spicy, smoky aroma of a lazy Monday afternoon in the Crescent City.

Red Beans and Rice

Red Beans and Rice

You see, red beans and rice is traditionally made on Mondays using the leftovers from Sunday’s dinners. I have an old Times-Picayune cookbook that says this tradition that goes back to the city’s colonial days, when ham was what was for dinner on Sunday, and the scraps and leftovers were boiled with a pot of beans all day Monday, while the washing was done.

It is a dish still closely identified with New Orleans. When you visit the city, you will see it on a lot of restaurant menus, and a big pot of it is cooked whenever people gather together to watch a Saints game, for Mardi Gras or second line celebrations, or any other festive occasion, from what I’m told.

Red beans and rice was Louis Armstrong’s favorite dish. How cool is that? Also, how cool is it that the city’s airport is named for Louis Armstrong?!  What a place! (Can you imagine naming O’Hare after Chicago musicians? Buddy Guy International Airport? Styx Field? Wait, I actually kind of like both of those.)

You can put a lot of things in red beans and rice, besides the titular ingredients. Traditionally, there’s a mix of vegetables and ham or sausage in a tomato-based sauce, but there are really no limits. If you serve it with jalapeno cornbread, please call me because I will be there.

I like to mix all the ingredients the night before in the crock pot, then refrigerate it until the next morning. Before going to work, I pop it into the slow-cooker, set the timer for 8 hours on low and when I get home the house is filled with magic. Must drive the dogs nuts.

If you’re home, you can also cook it on the stovetop over a low flame for several hours. Just give it a stir once in a while when you walk past it.

If you buy one of those boxes of Zatarain’s red beans and rice, your heart is in the right place, but you’re not doing it right.

Red Beans and Rice

16 oz package Polska Kielbasa (or Turkey Kielbasa), sliced into medallions

1 medium white onion, diced

1/2 green pepper, diced

3-4 carrots, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

2-3 jalapenos, seeds and ribs removed, diced

15 oz can whole peeled tomtoes, hand crushed

12 oz can diced tomatos and chiles

2 cans red beans, drained and rinsed

1 bay leaf

1 cup Spicy V-8

2 cups cooked rice

Combine all ingredients, except the rice, in crock pot. Stir together and cook on low for 8-10 hours, stirring occasionally.

To plate, press rice into a ramekin and invert in the center of a soup bowl. Ladle the red beans mixture around the rice, and garnish with parsley or cilantro sprigs.

Serve with jalapeno cornbread or any kind of fresh made bread, turn on a little Professor Longhair and you officially are an honorary New Orleanian.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Share your Crescent City favorites in the comments section below. And thanks for looking at my blog!

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Jambalaya!

Something you may not know about me: New Orleans is my favorite city.

Although I’ve never been lucky enough to live there, I try to get there as often as I can, especially during the city’s big Jazz and Heritage Festival in the spring. I just love the music, the European flavor of the French Quarter, the quirky neighborhoods, and especially the food.

My love for the Crescent City has crept onto numerous menus at restaurants where I have worked, sometimes for no reason other than I love the cuisine. Whenever I get lonesome for that town, I stop by one of my favorite Chicago restaurants, Heaven on Seven, a Creole and Cajun inspired joint that has some of the best food I’ve had anywhere outside Louisiana.

Digging around my refrigerator the other day, I noticed I had some leftover chicken, sausage and shrimp. Jambalaya, I immediately thought. With the Bears playing the Saints this weekend, what could be better than this all-time New Orleans favorite.

Jambalaya with Jalapeno Cornbread

Jambalaya with Jalapeno Cornbread

This recipe is simple, inexpensive and delicious. It’s a great way to use up odds and ends from your fridge or freezer. Chicken, Andouille sausage and shrimp are the traditional ingredients, but really you can make it with anything you have, including straight vegetarian.

You can cook it in your slow cooker, but I couldn’t wait that long so I cooked it up on the stove top. And I just had to serve it with some jalapeno cornbread.

Jambalaya

1 or 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts

1 or 2 Italian sausage links (or Andouille, if you can find it), cut into 1-2 inch peices

1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined

1 cup white onion, diced

1 green pepper, seeds and ribs removed, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 TBS all-purpose flour

2 TBS tomato paste

15 oz can of diced tomatoes

3/4 cup white rice (not instant, puh-lease!)

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup chicken broth

3/4 cup water

1 TBS Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning (usually just referred to as “Tony’s”) (You can substitute with Old Bay or any kind of Cajun or Creole seasoning)

EVOO

Sea salt and cracked black pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 375. Heat 1 TBS EVOO in cast iron skillet. When oil starts to smoke, add chicken and sausage, seasoning with S&P. Let brown, about 2 minutes, then turn and season and brown the other side a minute, then throw the whole pan in the oven to finish cooking, about 7 minutes. Remove and set aside for later.

2. In large pot, heat 1 TBS EVOO. When oil starts to smoke, add onion, green pepper, celery and bay leaf. Sweat until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook for about another 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently so it doesn’t burn. Add the chicken stock, water, Tony’s, diced chicken and sausage and stir. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, cover and cook until rice is done, about 25 minutes.

3. Combine the shrimp with 1 TBS of EVOO and sprinkle with 1 tsp Tony’s. Refrigerate to let flavors marinate. Just before service, in hot saute pan, drizzle a little EVOO. When oil starts to smoke, add shrimp. Saute until done, about 3-4 minutes, flipping once or twice.

To plate, use a kitchen spoon to build a big pile of jambalaya in the center of a pasta bowl. Arrange the shrimp around the pile. Garnish with parsley sprig or chopped parsley.

Jalapeno Cornbread

Jalapeno Cornbread

Jalapeno Cornbread

1 cup All Purpose Flour

2 TBS sugar

TBS baking powder

½ tsp salt

1 cup yellow cornmeal

1 cup milk

2 eggs, beaten

¼ cup vegetable oil

3-4 jalapenos, ribs and seeds removed, diced

Preheat oven to 425F. Grease your cast iron skillet with pan spray and throw it in the oven.

1. While the oven is warming, combine milk, eggs and oil in a bowl. In another bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cornmeal. Slowly stir liquid mixture into powder mixture just until batter is wet. Fold in jalapenos, then use potholders to remove skillet from oven and pour batter into skillet.

2. Cook for about 25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

This recipe can also be made in a 9”x9” baking dish that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Do you love New Orleans cooking as much as I do? What are your favorite dishes? Let us know in the comments section below.

Laissez les bons temps rouler!