My husband has a folder in his mind titled “Kate comfort food.” My red beans recipe is in the top 10, maybe top five. Simple yet flavorful food can bring comfort to a stress filled day or warmth on a cold night. Yes, it does get cold in Southern California- I promise. I have discovered a secret in the preparation and cooking process of red beans, let’s say it lessens the tummy issues and I’ll leave it at that. The secret is the overnight soaking water and the first boil. It is nontraditional-but it works ** see recipe.
My earliest memories of red beans were with my Poppa, Charles Mathson Slaton he was born in Macon, Georgia in 1918 truly an amazing and talented man who I miss dearly. We would go to a small diner where he would order us a bowl of RBR with a side of cornbread. I would get this giggle and laugh going and then my mouth would start puckering due to the heat of the Andouille sausage_ it’s flavorful spices and smoke honestly was and still is my favorite part.
The vegetables in this dish are not many- simply green bell pepper, onion and celery-always referred to as-the Trinity. Poppa would say “Bug” (ref #1) the way to a man’s heart is in these three here vegetables and he pulled a few of them out of the bowl and onto a plate: green bell pepper, onion and celery. “If you use these in your food you will find a good man.” Guess what, in all my years of making red beans I never made them for someone that I was dating, I have only made them for my husband. Poppa was correct.
The first time I made my red beans and rice for my soon-to-be husband he was going through particularly tough time. He had just lost his father to cancer; and, he was back from his deployment in Iraq. Steve was in a lost spot and honestly I did not know what to do. Then I remembered feeding helps those who need comfort. Off to the store I went to get: smoked ham hocks, spicy sausage, red beans and the trinity. Overnight the beans soaked becoming plump and full, in the morning out came my two tried-and-true, battered and banged up orange colored Le Creuset French Oven. The first French oven had the beans simmering away, the second was used to sauté the remaining ingredients. The sweet smell of onion, thyme, bay leaf and garlic started to wrap their fragrant hands around him-coaxing him to ask what was I making. “It’s red beans, it’ll make you feel better, I promise.”
Soon the smoky ham hocks were added and the spicy sausage, by then Steve had moved into the kitchen with me, watching what I was doing quietly sitting there reading his book being comforted by the smells of simple, good food. The beans were added to the sautéed vegetables along with chicken stock, the lid was placed on and the French oven then I slid it to a back burner for its low heat simmer. The pot for the rice was on the stove gently bubbling away. Next the oven was set to 400°F; and, my 60 + year-old Lodge cast-iron 10″ inch skillet was placed in that oven to heat up with a good tablespoon of bacon drippings. Just when the cast iron and bacon fat was good and hot I took it out of the oven and poured my sweet cornbread batter into the pan, its like a sizzling kiss of love that hot bacon fat makes the perfect crisp outer crust to any corn bread recipe.
It’s now 10 years later and I look back on that dinner, I remember seeing a moment of peace, comfort and healing. I don’t know why but somewhere in the soaking, boiling, simmering, stirring and tending to, love was so gently infused into that meal. Still to this day his face softens, his shoulders relax and his smile returns whenever he smells my red beans slowly cooking away on our stove. I hope you find comfort in this recipe I also hope you giggle a bit at the spice it has too.
Poppa’s Red Beans
- 1lb dried red kidney beans
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
- 5 cloves of garlic crushed
- 2 ribs of celery, chopped
- 2 medium sized ham hocks
- 1- 1 ½ pounds Andouille sausage, cut into rounds
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups stock (chicken, pork or vegetable)
- 4 cups water
- Creole seasoning to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons grape seed oil
- 1 tsp baking soda *
- Sort and rinse your kidney beans then add to a large pot or bowl, fill with enough cool water to have at least 2” space between the beans and the top line of the water. * tummy helper #1 add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to the water mix around and leave to soak overnight. At least 12 hours.
- After overnight soak drain and rinse the beans very well. Place beans in a French oven or large pot and cover with cool water. Place the pot on the stove and use a low flame to simmer the beans. About 1 hour.
- While the beans are half way through their simmer in your second pot add your oil and heat the pot on medium. When the oil glistens or has that heat ripple look, sauté the onions and garlic until soft and translucent. Add the celery and bell pepper, about about 5 minutes then add the thyme, bay leaves, ham hocks, sausage 4 cups water and 2 cups stock. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to simmer.
- Drain your tender beans and rinse very well * secret #2. Add beans to the simmering pot and slowly cook for 2 to 3 hours. At the 2-hour mark check the beans to see if they are soft and creamy then taste, add your creole seasoning and any salt and pepper that is needed.
- Serve over a bowl of light and fluffy white rice and enjoy or simply on their own.
Reference #1 my full name is Kathleen but I was called Katie as a young girl and “Katie Bug” was my nickname; but, my Poppa called me bug for short.