Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Red beans and rice

Three winters of walking through the woods to work and this one is the only one in which I've seen moose. I saw number four today. As I was rounding a corner I hummed a little but it wasn't truly necessary because I could already see the moose, about 30 feet off the path. It looked at me, I looked at it, and we stared at each other for a long time. Finally, it went back to eating trees and I walked up the path, looking over my shoulder to be sure it wouldn't suddenly start chasing me.
But moose aren't really what I wanted to write about today. I want to talk about something so simple, and yet so wonderful and filling. Red beans and rice. It's the quintessential poor person's meal. I'm sad to say, though, that I never really thought about making it. For one thing, I'm not actually a huge fan of beans. They're fine, sometimes, but I guess I've never really known what to do with them. How to make them good. I love lentil soup, but Shane does not. So we haven't really made beans that much, even though they're both super nutritious and cheap.
The other reason is: rice. For all of my mad baking skillz, I never actually learned how to cook rice. Every time I had rice, someone else ended up making it for me. When we've made fried rice, it's most definitely Shane's dish to prepare. (And he's excellent at it.)
All that is now changed. Over a month ago, a friend sent me a recipe for slow cooker red beans and rice, and I finally got around to making it this week. I was a little wary...would I actually like it? Would I undercook the beans?
But it was so easy, how could I not at least try it? Even making my own spice mix, it was a simple recipe that was plenty easy to set up the night before in about ten minutes. (To give it all a slightly different aspect, I suspect you could mix in ginger instead of cayenne pepper and also come up with something tasty. Play with the amounts, though, since you wouldn't want it to be overwhelmingly ginger-y.)
I won't give you the whole recipe here, since you can just go to the website and read it. I was using dried beans, so I put everything (onion, red pepper, celery, beans, spices, and water) into the pot the night before to let the beans soak and to give the flavors some more time to mix together. (I forgot the sausage, so that went in in the morning.) Then I cooked it on "low" during the day, rather than "high" as was recommended. I was worried that the beans would end up too hard, but doing it my way they ended up perfectly textured. The other worry was that the celery would break down too much, but it had just enough crunch left to let me know it's there and to not have the whole meal be mushy.
As for the sausage, I used summer sausage because we happened to have some on hand (courtesy of Shane's grandfather). I didn't use much, either, just half the sausage. Enough to let you know that it's there but not enough to take over the whole dish. This sausage hasn't been our favorite, but it did well in this dish. If you're trying to go meatless or just eat less meat, it would be simple enough to leave out the meat and it would still be delicious.
Shane had to direct me in making the rice, but now I know how. For this meal, I made three cups of dried rice (it cooked up to about 9 cups) and that seems to be about the perfect amount. Make a little more if you want the meal to be less soup-like. We'll get at least four meals out of this, though, even though we fed my little brother last night and I had seconds the first night. It's that good.
I suspect that another good, nutritious addition would be some cabbage. Shane hates cooked cabbage, so I need to keep him in mind. If I add the cabbage at the end while I'm cooking the rice (essentially blanching it) it should remain nice and firm, but still be cooked through enough to not seem totally out of place. I might try that next time....
If anyone else has easy, yummy Crock Pot recipes, please share! I'd love to try them out.

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