My favorite red beans and rice of all time is from Popeye’s. I could eat endless quantities of it. It’s creamy, salty, smoky and delicious. It also contains a ton of bullshit chemicals, preservatives and “natural flavoring” so I indulge very rarely. My main complaint with most people’s red beans is that it’s not creamy or salty enough. I don’t like the kind of red beans where all the beans are whole and they are swimming in a broth of veggies and spices. I want it to be a puree of smoky goodness that’s dotted with soft beans. Popeye’s red beans also contain pork fat which is another reason it may be so delicious. However, I was determined to make a veggie version that would make my taste buds sing.
Starting with the correct ingredients is a big part of making the best red beans and rice. I personally believe that small red beans are superior to red kidney beans for this dish. If you can only find red kidney beans it will be fine but they just don’t get as creamy and I think kidney beans are more starchy and less sweet. But not a deal breaker! Either way, you will need to soak your beans over night so that they cook down properly. Most red bean recipes call for a pound of dry red beans which makes a pretty obscene amount of food in my opinion. I love red beans but if it’s just for me, I don’t need to make a giant bucket of it. You will notice that that one little cup of beans swells up a lot after one night of soaking and they will further plump up when you cook them. A little definitely goes a long way when it comes to dried beans.
I didn’t have any Cajun seasoning on hand like Tony Chachere’s or Zatarain’s, so I made my own little spice mix which was a pretty darn close approximation. Plus, less additives and preservatives to worry about. You can put a little less cayenne in this if you don’t like heat. This amount of cayenne gives it bite but it’s not crazy.
Of course, like any traditional New Orleans recipe, it starts with sauteing the “Holy Trinity” of celery, onions and bell pepper. It blows me away every time how much flavor this gives to dishes. They will cook down so that all of their flavor will melt into the dish and you will hardly be able to see them but they are there, giving the dish a distinct flavor. And I didn’t make that name up. That’s really what this combo is called. No joke.
Because I was making this without meat, I needed that smoky flavor and I got it from using some applewood smoked pepper and a smoky salt that was in the pantry. You can also use something like liquid smoke or any other smoky flavored additive. The herbs are also an important part of the equation and really bring home the flavor that I crave.
So I had all my bases covered on flavor. Now let’s talk about texture. Popeye’s beans are so creamy and I needed my beans to be creamy too. A good portion of that creaminess is achieved by cooking the living shit out of the beans. They start to break down after a while and make their own creaminess. But in my experience, red beans never break down as much as I want them to. They are stubborn little bastards and I often resort to pulling a couple cups of beans out of the pot and blending them in the blender and then adding it back to the pot. Or if I’m feeling super lazy, I’ll hit the beans with an immersion blender. The only problem with the immersion blender is that it blends everything and I do like to have a few whole beans in there for texture and presentation. Otherwise it is has a pretty unappetizing look.
After all the cooking, blending and seasoning, the verdict on these beans was overwhelmingly positive. They tasted like Popeye’s to me and when I served them to friends, they could not believe that I didn’t put meat in it. See!!! You don’t always need meat to make stuff taste good!!
- 4 cups of cooked rice
- 1/4 cup of grapeseed, sunflower or other veggie oil
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup of red beans, soaked overnight and drained
- 6 cups of water
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 teaspoon thyme
- 1/2 teaspoon sage
- 1/2 teaspoon parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon celery salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon applewood smoked pepper
- 1 teaspoon smoked salt
- In a dutch oven, heat the oil over medium heat and then add the onions, bell pepper, celery and garlic. Saute until the onions are translucent but not brown. Lower the heat if they start to brown.
- Add soaked beans, and water and bring up to a simmer. Add the remaining herbs, spices, salt and pepper and let the beans simmer for an hour.
- Check the beans to see if they are breaking down yet. The beans should be tender by now but they may not be breaking down just yet.
- Cook for another hour and check on them, stirring to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot and burn. Add more water if needed.
- When the beans are very soft and some of them are disintegrating in the pot, pull out 2 cups of what’s in the pot and blend it on high until it’s smooth and creamy. Add it back to the pot and heat through. Taste the beans and add more salt if needed.
- Serve over a cup of cooked rice.