Red Beans and Rice: Frugal, Healthy and Very Simple

Dried beans are versatile and a great addition to frugal, healthy meals. Double this recipe for leftovers during your hectic week.

Over the past year writing Great Eats, I have had numerous email requests for frugal recipes, meatless recipes, healthy recipes and regional recipes.  

This year, I will tailor my recipes to your requests, starting with “frugal,” to kick off 2012.

As the mother of teenagers, I am a self-proclaimed queen of frugal dinners. Feeding teenagers, and their many friends, often requires creativity. Breakfast for dinner is a great option, as are soups and stews. Beans, however, are my favorite way to stretch the food dollar. Combined with great spices, beans are anything but ordinary.

 in St. Peters is a good source for dried beans, plus dozens of other items for your healthy, frugal lifestyle. Beans are versatile and show up in many regional dishes.

Inspired by my first trip to New Orleans, I set out to recreate one of our favorite dishes from the area, red beans and rice. This Creole staple is nothing more than beans, spices, herbs and bits of leftover meat, most typically ham or pickled pork. The key is simmering the combination for hours.

Because red beans and rice simmers for hours, preparing it on a lazy Sunday makes more sense in today’s busy world. The dish tastes even better the next day, so serving it on Monday is a great option.

According to internet research, red beans and rice originally was a Monday meal. Women would do wash on Mondays. On those wash days, the bean pot could simmer on the stove (or fire) for a long time with little attention from the cook. Red beans and rice was also a great way to use the leftover ham from Sunday dinner.

Another explanation as to why red beans and rice is the perfect Monday meal comes from my friend, Ellen, who is originally from the New Orleans area. She says that red beans and rice is not a traditionally spicy dish and is the perfect meal after a weekend of over-indulging in food and drink. Either way, it is a simple, affordable taste of the Big Easy!

For this recipe, I used leftover ham I had in the freezer from Christmas, making it the perfect frugal meal. Serve the beans over hot, cooked rice and have a bottle of hot sauce handy for a little extra spice. The bay leaves in the recipe come from the . I find their products to be superior to grocery store spices and herbs.

Red Beans

Makes 8 servings

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped
  • 3 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons chopped garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Generous dash of hot sauce (Crystal or Tabasco)
  • Generous dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 quarts water
  • 16 ounces dried, red kidney beans
  • 1 pound baked or smoked ham slices, cut into small strips (optional)

In a large, heavy Dutch oven (preferably enamel coated cast iron), heat olive oil until it shimmers. Add the onion and celery. Sauté until the vegetables soften a bit, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for a few seconds more.

Add the remaining ingredients, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for six hours stirring every thirty minutes.

Note: Add water, ½ cup at a time, if necessary to prevent scorching. The finished product should be somewhat thick with few whole beans remaining. 


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