Red beans and rice: Cheap (and vegetarian!) Cajun comfort food

9:00 AM

The smell of onion and bell pepper sauteeing in butter is one of THE major smells of my childhood. My family is from South Louisiana and almost everything starts with that aromatic base: gumbo, crawfish etouffee, and one of my all-time favorite comfort foods, red beans and rice.

I've written a bit about being a graduate student but something I may not have written about is how soul-crushingly poor I sometimes am between paychecks and freelancing gigs.

This is a recipe that is filling, healthy, and soothing without any fancy ingredients. This last time I made it, it worked out to be about $0.60 per serving.*

This is one of those Frankenstein recipes: pieced together from multiple books to suit my tastes but is mostly based on a couple of red bean recipes from the iconic River Roads cookbook + the always classic How to Cook Everything by Mark Bitman, minus all meat because with all these aromatic spices you really won't miss it.

I like to make my beans the old-fashioned way: soaking overnight reduces cooking time and might reduce the compounds that cause gas (win-win!). Cooking them slow, slow for a few hours makes the beans extra soft and really reduces the liquid and concentrates the flavor. This recipe will take 2-3 hours, but this is almost totally just letting it do its thang on the stove. Have a lazy Sunday and watch a movie and then boom, red beans and rice!

Red Beans + Rice
Makes 4-6 servings

1 lb red kidney beans
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
2-4 garlic cloves, your choice, minced
2 tbs. butter
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. smoked paprika
1/2 tsp. cumin
a healthy pinch or 2 of cayenne pepper
cooked rice + cilantro to serve


1. Cover beans with 2 inches water and soak in the fridge overnight.

2. Melt butter in sauté pan over medium heat; add onion and bell and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and pepper is softened, about 10 minutes.

3. Add spices to pot, then beans, then water to cover. Raise the heat up a bit and boil for 10 minutes.

4. Turn heat down to low and simmer ever so slowly for a few hours until beans are soft and liquid is thickened. My last batch took me about 3 hours, but it's also been done in 2. It depends on the particular beans you're using, how long they've been soaked - basically, it's art, not a science.

5. Serve over rice, sprinkled with cilantro if you'd like it. Tabasco is a must!

* A note about my cost calculations: In general, I do not include the cost for spices that I already own. Spices can be costly, so look for stores that sell them based on weight - you can get the small amount you need for a recipe for pennies.

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