Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Louisiana style red beans and rice

Living (currently) as a southern boy transplanted to the midwest, one thing that I see constantly done wrong here is red beans and rice. Most people around here have no clue what real, Louisiana style red beans and rice is like. When I first moved to Saint Louis almost five years ago I was really stoked about all the vegetarian and vegan options there are for eating out. (Many of the local veggies here bitch, which I marvel at; Saint Louis is likely the most underrated vegan friendly city in the country -- and I've been to the supposed vegan meccas of Portland and San Francisco.) So imagine my horror when I order "red beans and rice"as a vegan selection on a local bar's menu and get basically whole kidney beans with a thin soupy broth served over rice.

First of all red beans and rice are NOT made with kidney beans. Understand that. True red beans and rice use the small red beans. Furthermore, the finished product is not simply whole beans in a broth, but creamy and thick, and not soupy at all.

  • One pound (regular 16 oz. package) of small red beans
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 head of garlic (yes, a whole head), minced
  • 4 decent sized sprigs rosemary, finely chopped
  • 5 bayleaves
  • 1/2 tablespoon red pepper flakes
  • One regular (32 oz.) carton of vegetable broth
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt
The first thing you do is soak your beans overnight in plenty of water. The alternative to this is the quick soak method. The quick soak method is basically boiling the ever living shit out of dry beans for a few minutes, then taking them off the heat and letting them sit for an hour. It works, but I recommend an overnight soak, as the beans end up a better, more evenly cooked finished product.

After your beans are soaked the next step is to cook them. Throw out the soaking water and replace it with until the beans are well covered with water. Boil them for an hour with your bayleaves. After they are done drain them set them to the side.

Saute your onions, bell pepper, and celery on high heat until the onions start to caramelize. Turn your heat down to medium and add the garlic and the red pepper flakes. (If you think you are bad ass you can add a whole tablespoon, but any more than that and I think the heat starts to take away from the flavor of the red beans.) Stir this for a few minutes making sure it doesn't burn, then add half of your veggie broth.

Bring everything up to a vigorous boil and add half of your rosemary. Let it boil for a three or so minutes, then add your drained, cooked red beans (with the bayleaves) and the rest of your veggie broth. Bring it up to a boil then turn the heat down a little to medium-high. You want a good simmer going on here -- you don't want a full boil but you also don't want a light simmer either. These need to cook about an hour and a half. You need to be sure to stir regularly to make sure the beans don't stick to the bottom and burn. You will also need to add some water a couple of times (a cup or so at a time) as it cooks down. About 45 minutes or so into this process add the rest of the rosemary. Also, take a little taste and add salt accordingly.

Another thing that I like to do toward the end, but is optional, is to take a potato masher and mash the beans up a bit. This gets them a little creamier, which I like.

Serve over rice. Choose your own beans to rice ratio. You can add some hot sauce if you want. Also, this is one of those dishes that's better the next day, so don't eat it all up immediately.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Side dish: roasted cauliflower

I'm a true food nerd. Often times I have a recipe in my head that I just have to try out. These ideas for dished just pop into my head form time to time. A couple of months ago I had dinner with some friends who made a simple and delicious roasted cauliflower dish that was styled on Indian cuisine. They just took various spices and coated cauliflower florets with and roasted it. Cauliflower already has a pretty good natural taste to it in my opinion, and the spice combination did a decent job of complimenting this natural flavor.

Ever since then, and after tweaking and "perfecting"* my marinade, I've been thinking of how to take the great interaction that exists between chili powder and brown sugar and add it to other dishes. For some reasons combining those two ingredients seems to give rise to a new flavor that is better than the sum of their parts. So I decided that instead of using Indian spices I would experiment and alter my marinade to work as a spice mixture with which to roast cauliflower.

So here's what I did -- and it was good.

  • One head of cauliflower
  • 1/2 cup of soy sauce
  • 1/8 cup white vinegar
  • 2.5 tablespoons of chili powder
  • 3 tablespoons of brown sugar
Chop the head of cauliflower into florets and set it aside. Add all the other ingredients in a mixing bowl and stir well until well mixed. Add the florets a few at a time and stir into the spice mixture, making sure each piece is coated, after which you will add it to a roasting pan or casserole dish. Keep doing this until all the cauliflower is covered. Put it in preheated oven at 425F uncovered for 10 minutes. Then take it out and stir it, and put it back in for another 10 minutes.

That should do it. If you don't think there is enough of the spice mixture (some cauliflower heads are bigger than others) then add more of each ingredient. This dish goes really well with my meatloaf. I had it the other night.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Guacamole -- K.I.S.S.

I had a bit of a get-together yesterday. I'm not allowed to drink alone any more, so I have to invite people over when I want to get drunk. And while I was at it I figured I should set things on fire in my backyard have a barbecue. Anyway, this isn't another grilling post. I just got a request for the recipe for my guacamole, which by my own admission is pretty damn good. Avocados were on sale at Whole Paycheck for a buck each, so I grabbed seven and decided to make a nice big bowl. I'm going to keep this recipe smaller though.

The trick to making good guacamole is, in my opinion, keeping it pretty simple. You don't need to add a lot of ingredients. This goes along with my general opinion on cooking and food prep in general, which is that you want to use as few ingredients as possible when making anything. This is a constant topic of debate between me and my friend Anna, which is fine. She's a sweet girl and completely entitled to her wrong-ass opinion.

  • 2 avocados
  • 1/2 medium red onion, diced
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 6 grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 small lime wedge
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
Mix this up however you see fit. If your avocados are not that ripe then you can put the lime juice and the tomatoes in first, as the acidity will break the avocados down a bit. Also, this is one of the things I like to just mix using my (usually washed) hands; you can squish it around pretty good and mix it fairly easily.

You can of course, as with pretty much anything else I put on this blog, adjust this as you see fit. If you have regular or roma or cherry tomatoes those will work. You can add a little cayenne pepper if you want a kick, or cilantro if you want to make it disgusting. (Sorry, I know this sounds insane to some people, but I do not like cilantro -- I think it tastes like soap.)