Dear Beloved Fellow Veggies,
Happy Belated Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day, Carnvial or whatever else you like to call the day of the year where you can gorge yourself on food, drink, and general merriment (beads anyone?) while pretending that you’re not going to do it again for 40 long days.
For those of you who have made it through the weekend without any major feats of debauchery, I tip my (chef’s) hat to you — we’ll see how you’re faring when Saint Patrick’s Day rolls around.
Boston isn’t exactly the place to celebrate Mardi Gras; we’re probably too busy preparing for epic St. Patty’s Day celebrations, which are pretty much unrivaled by all except those in Ireland. Bold statement? No, really, I kid you not. Up until this year, schools and government offices were closed for Saint Patrick’s Day in Boston — it’s just that big of a deal.
So where does the discerning glutton celebrate Mardi Gras in America? Well, if Boston is the place to be for St. Patty’s Day, then NOLA is where it’s at for Mardi Gras, which, from what I hear, New Orleanian’s pretty much celebrate all year long. I mean, let’s look at the facts: heart-attack inducing food laden with red meats and butter? Check! Cheap, strong drinks that you can glug from plastic cups in the streets? Check! Loud music and drunken tidings? Check and check! Yep, sounds like a year-round mardi gras party to me!
Ever since making my pilgrimage to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in December, New Orleans has shot straight to the top of my domestic travel to-do list. Since I am an aforementioned “discerning glutton,” NOLA sounds pretty much as close to paradise as you can get, and lately I’ve been regaled by the tales of my many friends who have visited and loved it. I’ve got the Bayou on the brain, that’s fo’ sho.
My sometimes-sous-chef has roots in NOLA (who dat?!) and is partially responsible for piquing my interest in cajun/creole food. New Orleans cuisine isn’t exactly known for its vegetarian friendliness, so I’ve never really tried my hand at cookin’ cajun, but when my buddy and I were planning our latest culinary quest, we kept pawin’ at the idea of a New Orleans theme.
And so, that weekend, we found out for ourselves that you don’t need to travel all the way to NOLA to feel the Mardi Gras spirit. Sometimes all you need is a bottle of Abita, a strong homemade hurricane, some good music with good company, a few killer kitchen dance moves, a fondness for real bacon, and a big sizzlin’ pot of cajun red beans. And when you pass out in your own bed early that night, over-indulged and slightly tipsy, still laughing from the night’s kitchen escapades, you realize you’ve had yourself as memorable a night as you could ever have in the real NOLA.
Red beans and ricely yours,
Red Beans and Rice (adapted from Cook’s Illustrated)
- 1 pound small red beans (about 2 cups), rinsed and picked over
- 4 slices bacon (about 4 ounces), chopped fine (use fake bacon + some oil if you’re being a good vegetarian)
- 1 medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
- 1 small green bell pepper , seeded and chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 celery rib , chopped fine (about 1/2 cup)
- 3 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika (see note)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Ground black pepper
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth (or veggie broth!)
- 6 cups water
- 8 ounces andouille sausage, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/4-inch slices (veggie sausage works great!)
- 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar , plus extra for seasoning
- 4 cups white rice, for serving
- 3 scallions, white and green parts, sliced thin
- Hot sauce (optional)
- Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak at room temperature for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.
- Heat bacon in large Dutch oven over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and almost fully rendered, 5 to 8 minutes. Add onion, green pepper, and celery; cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are softened, 6 to 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, thyme, paprika, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper; cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in beans, broth, and water; bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat and vigorously simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are just soft and liquid begins to thicken, 45 to 60 minutes.
- Stir in sausage and 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar and cook until liquid is thick and beans are fully tender and creamy, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt, black pepper, and additional red wine vinegar. Serve over rice, sprinkling with scallions and passing hot sauce separately, if desired.