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.
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
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.