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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Red Beans & Rice

Brrr! Yesterday was cold!

I yearned for something hearty that would bring me back to the good ol' days when my mom would make big pots of something hot and tasty for the family and dinner would be served with a giant spoon. I had a pound of smoked turkey sausage hangin' around, and I always keep a stash of dried beans and lentils handy, so I thought I'd go back and visit an old favorite.

Spicy and popping with flavor, this dish hit the spot. And true to tradition, dinner was served last night, piping hot, with a giant spoon. Ahhh, just like momma used to make.

What you'll need for a big o' pot of beans and rice
Recipe is kosher meat. To make this dish kosher pareve or vegetarian,
one can replace the turkey sausage with Boca meatless smoked sausage

- 1 lb bag bag dry kidney beans
- 1 lb smoked turkey sausage (or regular sausage. Or boca meatless sausage)
- 8 cups beef broth (or veggie broth)
- 3 cups dry brown rice
- 5-6 medium carrots, peeled
- 1 pint crimini mushrooms
- 1 small white onion
- 1/4 cup olive oil for sauteeing
- 1 6oz can tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 tablespoons thyme
- 2 tablespoons cajun spice
- 2 tablespoons Tabasco
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 tablespoon garlic pepper
- Green onions for garnish


First, you're gonna want to soak your beans for a good stretch of time, about 6-8 hours. You can do this overnight, or just put them in a bowl of water first thing in the morning. Be sure to leave a good 2-3" of water over the dry beans, as they'll soak it up.

Once your beans are fully soaked, drain them and set aside.

Dice up your carrots and onion. You may be thinking that carrots are an odd thing to add to red beans and rice, and you'd be right. But since I'm cooking for myself and a kiddo, I like to pile in the veggies wherever I can. Plus, they just add a nice color to the dish. And I like pretty things.

Into a large pot (and you'll need a good sized one, believe me), drizzle about half your olive oil into the bottom and turn the heat to medium. When the oil starts to pop, add your onions and carrots. Stir to coat everything in oil like a sunbather on spring break.

While the carrots and onion are cooking down, slice your sausage into coins. Add the sausage to the pot, along with your cajun seasoning. Stir well and simmer on medium heat until onions are translucent. When everything's all happy and mingling together, add your broth and bring to a boil.

When everything's all bubbly, add the tomato paste. You may need to whisk it a little to get it well incorporated with the broth. Then toss in your bay leaves and spices. Stir. It should be smelling mighty fine about now. Of course, spices are totally at your discretion--be sure to taste along the way and make sure you've got it how you like it. Did you overseason it a bit? Not to worry! The rice will soak up a lot of it, so a little heavy-handedness is no cause for alarm.

Now. Slice up those crimini mushrooms. You can use button mushrooms if you prefer those, but I like crimini for their meaty texture and rich flavor. You might also see crimini mushrooms marketed under the name "baby bellas". Same thing.

In a big skillet, drizzle the rest of your olive oil. Add the mushrooms and saute over medium heat until soft and browned.

Did you see "Julie & Julia"? If not, there's a scene in there where Julia Child advises, "don't crowd the mushrooms, or they won't brown". That's true. Make sure they're in an even, single layer. It may take you two or three batches to get them all cooked through.

Add the mushrooms to the mix and stir well.

Alrighty! Time for beans! Dump those right into the pot with everything else and stick a lid on it. Let 'em simmer for about 40 minutes.

In the meantime, we can get our rice going. Technically, you could just make your rice right there in the pot with everything else, but I like to keep as much of the liquid as possible available to tenderize the beans, so I make my rice separately.

(Also, I like to make extra and have rice pudding for breakfast the next day. Yum!)

I use minute rice because...well, because I'm lazy. And impatient. And because minute rice tastes just as good as regular rice for these purposes. If I was making sushi or something, well, that's a different story.

I added 2 1/2 cups of water to my saucepan and brought it a boil. Then, I dumped in 3 cups of dry rice. Stir. Cover. Turn off heat. Let the rice sit for about 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork, and you're all set.

Now, back to the big pot. Get a spoon out and do some tasting.

When your beans are lovely and tender, add your rice to the pot. Stir well.

You could serve it up now, but I like to turn off the heat, put the lid back on the pot, and let everything just blend together for a good half hour. It really helps the rice absorb the flavors better.

When your tummy rumbles a bit too loudly and you just can't wait anymore, dish up your spicy goodness, sit back, and enjoy! Happy eating!

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