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Posted on Mon, Aug 29, 2011 : 8 a.m.

A quick take on the New Orleans Monday staple red beans and rice

By Mary Bilyeu

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Mary Bilyeu, Contributor

Red Beans and Rice is a dish that traditionally cooks all day long. But sometimes you just don't have all day at your disposal; or your craving doesn't hit until you're riding the bus home, and you need to get your fix now once the notion has started to tease you.

And so I present this quicker — and thus inauthentic, but delicious nonetheless! — version of the famous dish, with apologies to folks (like my beloved blogging buddy Candace) who are from Louisiana and cherish the true vision of Red Beans and Rice.

I also apologize to the late, great Louis Armstrong, who loved this dish so much that he would sign letters "Red Beans and Ricely Yours." Louis adored this classic food to such a degree that the ability to make it properly was a litmus test of sorts for his fourth wife, Lucille — a northerner who won his heart by cobbling together a recipe that Louis declared to be "very much delicious."

But sometimes a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do, even if it's not entirely traditional. Because it's Monday, and that calls for Red Beans and Rice.

Back in September of 2005, I read an article in The New York Times about New Orleans' earliest attempts at recovery after the horror of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the city six years ago today (just as Irene is wreaking havoc on the East Coast). Red Beans and Rice was a critical component of the story.

The resilience of the people who live in New Orleans, and the tragedy of the unfathomable damage to a city I've only visited once and adored, struck me deeply.

And there is one portion of the article which has stayed with me for all these years as the city has come back to life. It is haunting for the normalcy it portrays in the midst of chaos; and it demonstrates the importance of the cherished comforts of food, tradition and familiarity after inconceivable trauma:

"Monday isn't Monday in New Orleans without red beans and rice. That's because back when laundry was done by hand, Monday was the day for doing it. A dish that could simmer all day was called for. People throw their laundry into washing machines any day of the week now, but red beans and rice is still the dish you eat on Monday in New Orleans.

On this Monday, two big pots were cooking on propane stoves on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant Alex Patout's, just across the narrow street from Antoine's.

The building's owner, Finis Shelnutt, was manning the pots, despite the neighborhood's stench, the approaching darkness and the near-barren streets.

Why?

'It's Monday, darlin',' he said."


Quicker Red Beans & Rice

3 strips bacon, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 small red onion, chopped
1 small red pepper, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 large garlic cloved, minced
1 link cooked Andouille sausage, sliced lengthwise then cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 15-ounce can dark kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 8-ounce can tomato sauce
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper sauce (Clancy's Fancy Hot Sauce, if you can get it — a fine Ann Arbor product!)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1-1/2 cups white wine (I used Flip Flop Wines Riesling, a most generous marketing gift!)
1/2 cup water
rice, for serving

In a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat, cook the bacon until it is starting to brown and has released some fat. Add the onion, red pepper, celery and garlic; cook until the vegetables have softened and the onion is translucent, stirring frequently. Add the remaining ingredients and turn the heat to high; bring to a boil, then continue cooking for 15-20 minutes until some of the liquid has evaporated but it's still quite soupy. According to the Armstrong family recipe: "Beans and meat should always be just covered with water (juice), never dry."

Serve in a deep bowl, over rice.

Makes 4-6 servings.


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Mary Bilyeu has won or placed in more than 60 cooking contests and writes about her adventures in the kitchen. She was thrilled to have her post about Scottish Oatmeal Shortbread named as one of the daily "Best of the Blogs" by the prestigious Food News Journal.


Go visit Mary's blog — Food Floozie — on which she enthuses and effuses over all things food-related. Her newest feature is Frugal Floozie Friday, seeking fun and food for $5 or less ... really! Feel free to email her with questions or comments or suggestions: yentamary@gmail.com.


The phrase "You Should Only Be Happy" (written in Hebrew on the stone pictured in this post) comes from Deuteronomy 16:15 and is a wish for all her readers as they cook along with her ... may you always be happy here.