Red Beans and Rice

We ate a lot of beans when I was a kid.  Baked beans almost every week in the winter, bean soup at least once a month, and bean salads when Mom found a new recipe in Woman’s Day.  In the summer we took canned beans along on picnics.

But I never tasted red beans and rice until long after I had left home.  My introduction to this creole staple was on a trip to New Orleans and after about two spoonfuls I was hooked.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of recipes for red beans and rice.  I have enjoyed versions in Georgia, Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee, but the best ones have all been in Louisiana.  Some recipes call for andouille sausage or ham in addition to the smoked hock, and some even add shrimp, but they all taste good.

Food historians tell us that the recipe for red beans and rice was probably brought to New Orleans from the island of Hispaniola by slaves of French planters during a slave rebellion in Haiti.  In any case, a pot of red beans slowly simmered with a smoked pork hock, onions and peppers and ladled over a serving of fluffy white rice is a wonderful example of comfort food.   Here is my recipe.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups dried small red beans
2 – 3 quarts water
1 meaty smoked ham hock
1 large or 2 medium onions
1 green bell pepper (3 inches in diameter)
2 or 3 stalks celery
4 bay leaves
1/8 tsp. thyme
1/4 tsp. hot sauce
4 or 5 green onions
Salt and pepper
Chicken and/or beef bouillon if needed
White rice, salt and water

PROCEDURE:

Wash the beans in a pot, drain in a colander and pick out the bad ones or gravel that you sometimes find.  Put the beans and pork hock in a Dutch oven or soup kettle that will hold at least 4 quarts.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer.  Peel and chop the onion.  You should have about 2 cups to add to the simmering beans.  Add them along with the bay leaves, thyme, hot sauce and about 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper.

The beans should simmer at least 3 hours.  Stir the beans occasionally and add water if necessary.  About an hour before serving the beans, remove the top, seeds and membrane from the pepper, and wash and clean the celery.  Chop the pepper and celery into 1/2 inch pieces and add them to the beans.  Bring back to the boil and simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the pork hock and allow it to cool enough to handle comfortably.  Separate the meat from the bone, fat and skin, chop into bite-sized pieces and return the meat to the beans.  Clean and chop the green onions into about 1/4 inch pieces and add them to the pot.

Simmer a few minutes, then taste the beans and broth.  At this point, you may want to add salt or a bouillon cube or two along with some more hot sauce and black pepper to adjust the seasoning to your taste.

Prepare the rice according to the directions on the package and serve the beans over the rice in shallow bowls.  A green salad and some good bread makes this dish into a fine meal.

NOTE:  I sometimes add some slices of smoked sausage along with the meat from the ham hock.  You might want to offer the hot sauce to guests who like a spicier dish.  For traditional New Orleans beans and rice you can mash some of the beans with a wooden spoon to make a creamier sauce, but I like it just the way it is.  It’s your choice.

The Turk’s Pilaf

Dining at the Turk’s Inn was always a special event.   There were many fine supper clubs in the Hayward, Wisconsin area when I was in high school, but the Turk’s Inn was at or very near the top of the list.  It was the place you took your Prom date to, so you started saving money right after the Christmas Ball.  Enough said.

The Turk’s Inn was owned by George and “Ma” Gogian.  It was a family operation.  George was the perfect host who made sure that everyone was treated as a special guest. “Ma,” his wife, was the chef, and their daughter Marge oversaw the tables in the dining room.

George and Ma are both gone now, but Marge greets guests and does her best to maintain the high standards set by her mother and father.  When we had dinner there a couple of years ago, the cocktails were excellent, my steak was perfect and the pilaf was just as wonderful as ever.

At the Turk’s, pilaf meant coarse cracked wheat or bulgur sautéed in butter, simmered in broth and seasoned only with salt and pepper.  Pilaf is commonly made with rice, but if you want something deliciously different that has only five ingredients and is ridiculously easy to make, try the Turk’s pilaf.

When she was in high school, my sister Barbara worked at the Turk’s.  She taught me how to make their wonderful pilaf.  I can’t swear that my recipe is identical to the pilaf I had with my steaks at the Turk’s, but it tastes just like the extra serving Marge brought brought me two summers ago.  It is so good that I sometimes wonder if “manna” really really refers to the ancestral version of the Turk’s pilaf.

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup bulgur (or coarse cracked Durham wheat)
3 T butter
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 to 3/4  tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

PROCEDURE:

Melt the butter in a skillet with tight-fitting lid.  Raise the heat to medium and add the bulgur or wheat.  Stir with a wooden spoon to coat every grain and toast it lightly.  Add the broth, salt and pepper and mix well.  Bring to boil, turn the heat to low, cover and simmer 10 to 12 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed,.  Remove from heat and let stand a few minutes.  Fluff with a fork and serve.

NOTE: Ken Bjork emailed to say that adding half cup of chow mein noodles to the pilaf before serving it gives it some extra crunch and flavor. It is one of his family’s favorites. The Turk’s daughter, Marge, included a half cup of broken up chow mein noodles in the recipe as well.