Red beans and rice have been a favorite since I was a little boy. The cafeteria at my small elementary school in Gulfport, Mississippi, had an incredible kitchen staff. There were about seven women, and everyone raved about their food—students, teachers, and even the parents. I remember diving into their creamy red beans, filled with bay leaves and spices. They were always served with a hot buttered roll into which I would stuff the red beans.
As an adult, I’ve changed my diet quite a bit, so I figured out an animal-free combination of ingredients that gives these beans a depth of flavor that seems to be missing when you remove the smoked sausage or ham. To replace the meat’s subtle sweetness, spices, and smokiness, I’ve added liquid smoke, soy sauce, maple syrup, and an extra kick of herbs and spices. Fresh herbs like oregano, thyme, bay leaves, and peppers provide an earthiness to the smooth and creamy texture. I use shiitake mushrooms, too, to enrich the dish; but they are completely optional.
- 1 lb. dried red beans
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cups shiitake mushroom caps, roughly chopped (optional)
- 1 cup celery, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 cup carrots, diced
- 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1/2 tsp. fresh black pepper
- 1 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
- 1 tsp. dried oregano
- 1 tsp. fresh oregano
- 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
- 2 fresh sage leaves, minced
- 1/2 tsp. cumin
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. smoked paprika
- 2 tsp. liquid smoke
- 3 tbsp. nutritional yeast (optional)
- 1 tbsp. onion powder
- 1 tbsp. garlic powder
- 1 tbsp. maple syrup
- 8 cups water
- 5 bay leaves
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup green onions, chopped
One day ahead: Prepare the beans. Bring a pot of water to boil (no salt). Remove from heat and add the dry beans. Soak overnight.* Rinse well, drain, set aside.
- In a medium pot, add olive oil, onions, and mushrooms. Sauté on medium heat until caramelized. Lower the heat, add celery, bell peppers, tomatoes, and carrots, and continue sautéing for an additional 10 minutes.
- Add pepper, thyme, oregano, cayenne, sage, cumin, garlic, smoked paprika, liquid smoke, nutritional yeast, onion and garlic powders, and maple syrup. Stir well and sauté for an additional 5 minutes.
- Add beans, water, and bay leaves and bring to a rapid boil for 5 minutes. Reduce to a simmer and cook for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
- After two hours, add 1 to 2 cups of additional water as needed. Add salt and soy sauce. Cook for an additional hour or until beans are soft.**
- Using a fork or potato masher, mash about 2 to 3 cups of beans either in the pot or separately and add back.***
- Add parsley, green onions, and salt to taste, mixing well. Serve over rice and top with your preferred garnishes.****
*To help break down the hard-to-digest starches in the beans, I recommend soaking the beans in boiled water. For best results, soak overnight (or at least 8 hours). I also add nutritional yeast, which is a condiment that has become more and more popular. It’s a yeast that grows from molasses production and has a uniquely nutty and buttery flavor. If you can’t find any (it is at all Whole Foods and most health food stores), you can surely eliminate it.
**I recommend adding salt to the beans at the very end of the cooking process to ensure the beans become soft and creamy.
***Mashing a small portion of the cooked beans creates a smooth and creamy texture. You can mash them directly on the side of the pot with a large fork or in the bottom of the pot with a potato masher. I personally recommend removing the three cups of beans and mashing them separately in a bowl to ensure they are as creamy as possible before adding them back.
****As you can tell from the photograph, I like to garnish the red beans with beautiful fresh herbs such as oregano, sage, and thyme. I also recommend using Louisiana purple rice, diced peppers, and the traditional few dashes of hot sauce. This gives the dish a pop of color and added flavor.