Thursday, February 16, 2012

Creole Cooked Red Beans

Listed under the “Vegetables” chapter, “Creole Cooked Red Beans” was the first recipe I experimented with in Lena’s cookbook.  By happenstance, I cooked this dish on Monday, a traditional day to cook red beans and rice.  I took this as a very good omen as I set off on my culinary expedition, hoping to unearth a deeper connection to Lena.  I carefully read through her recipe several times, imagining the process step by step.  All the while, my heart began to ache as my mind was inundated with memories of the vibrant culinary culture of New Orleans.  I had not realized how much I missed the Big Easy.

Lena’s red beans recipe is simple.  But within these few short sentences is the key to a rich, creamy and flavorful dish.

The recipe reads as follows:

2 cups Red Beans
1 large onion
½ pound pickled meat or ham shank
3 pods garlic
1 green pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 bay leaf
3 tablespoons shortening
2 ½ quarts of water
Salt and pepper to taste

            Soak beans over night.  Cook with seasonings, meat and shortening until creamy, except parsley.  Just before ready to serve add parsley and salt and pepper to taste.
 

So how did I interpret Lena’s recipe?  I soaked my beans over night (simple enough). The next day, I drained the beans and set them aside while I roughly diced 1 large white onion, 1 green pepper, and finely diced 3 cloves of garlic.  


I heated 3 tablespoons of butter on medium high heat in a large soup pot, adding the garlic, onion and pepper and sautéing for 5 minutes.  I added the ham shank to the pot of vegetables and cooked for 5 more minutes on medium high heat, stirring the vegetables occasionally.  


Then I added the red beans, bay leaf and 8 cups of water (saving the other 2 cups of water for later), and brought the beans to a boil.  


I reduced the beans to a simmer and cooked them covered for 1 ½ hours, stirring every 30 minutes.  Then I uncovered the beans, added 2 more cups of water, increased the heat to bring the beans to a steady simmer and cooked uncovered for 3 more hours until the liquid reduced by ⅓, stirring occasionally.  


Because I was pressed for time (red beans and rice can be an all-day long affair), I chose to mash some of the beans up against the side of the pot to quicken the thickening process.  I added salt and pepper to taste.  Red beans is typically served with long grain white rice.  I opted to serve this dish over short grain brown rice with chopped English parsley as a garnish.  What can I say?  I was feeling innovative and a little rebellious.


To put it simply, this dish is addicting.  I found myself going back for seconds, while looking forward to having it again for lunch the next day.  Like my mother, I am a firm believer that slow cooked foods get better the next day (when the flavors have time to fuse together even more deeply).  I highly recommend that you try Lena’s “Creole Cooked Red Beans.”  You will find yourself heading back to the kitchen for a hearty second helping!

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