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Big Easy classic easy to prepare

It’s no surprise that red beans and rice is one of the dishes most strongly associated with the enchanting city of New Orleans, also known as The Big Easy. It’s delicious, nutritious, easy to prepare and very inexpensive.

While New Orleans is known for its amazing cuisine it’s also known for its celebration of Mardi Gras, which happens to be Tuesday. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, due to the custom of eating rich, decadent foods in anticipation of the fasting and personal sacrifice that starts on Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. Is it wrong that I only celebrate the “fat” part of that equation? Don’t answer that.

Red beans and rice is customarily made on Mondays in the South. It uses the leftover ham bone from Sunday’s dinner simmered all day with beans and served over rice. So, turns out I’m celebrating Monday on a Tuesday. But I digress. Let’s cook.

To make this recipe weeknight easy, I’ve used canned beans. You could certainly use dried beans prepared according to package directions. The beans used in this recipe are small red beans. If you can’t find them, substitute red kidney beans.

Traditionally, this recipe calls for andouille (an-DOO-ee) sausage, which has a nice spicy kick. If you can’t find andouille or want a milder sausage, substitute kielbasa or other smoked sausage.

Since rice is such an important element of this dish, go to the extra effort of making really flavorful rice. Bring 4 cups of chicken broth or bouillon to a boil then add 2 cups long grain white or basmati rice and a big ol’ tablespoon of butter. If you use low sodium broth, add ½ teaspoon salt. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes for perfect rice every time.

You can make your own Creole seasoning by blending 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon kosher salt, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, ½ tablespoon each: black pepper, onion powder, dried oregano, dried thyme and add cayenne pepper to taste, starting with 1 teaspoon and adding as desired.

Mardi Gras is a celebration of food, music, creativity, festivity and joy. As they say in New Orleans: “Laissez les Bons temps rouler!” Let the good times roll!

BIG EASY RED BEANS AND RICE

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Time: 90 minutes

What you’ll need:

1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil

1 13.5-ounce link smoked sausage, andouille or kielbasa, cut into ¼-inch slices

1 large onion, about 1½ cups, chopped

2 or 1 cup ribs celery, chopped

1 green bell pepper, about 1 cup, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups chicken stock

1 tablespoon Creole seasoning

1 teaspoon dried thyme

¼ teaspoon black pepper

2 bay leaves

2 15.5-ounce cans red beans, drained and rinsed

6 cups cooked rice

Here’s how:

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Sauté the smoked sausage to render all that flavorful fat. Remove from pan and set aside.

In the same skillet, sauté the onion, celery, green bell pepper and garlic until tender. Add the chicken stock, seasoning, thyme, pepper and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a bare simmer. Add beans and simmer for at least 45 minutes; but the longer it cooks, the better it gets. Doesn’t the house smell delicious? This is how you want the house to smell when you invite company over for dinner. Stir it occasionally and add water, if necessary.

Taste and adjust seasoning adding salt, if needed.

Serve the beans with the rice and Dixieland jazz music.

Lifestyle expert Patti Diamond is a recipe developer and food writer of the website “Divas On A Dime – Where Frugal, Meets Fabulous!” Visit Patti at www.divasonadime.com and join the conversation on Facebook at DivasOnADimeDotCom. Email Patti at divapatti@divasonadime.com.

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