With Fat Tuesday less than a week away, the desire for red beans and rice is strong.
I've been making red beans and rice ever since Paul Prudhomme saw fit to publish a recipe for it in “The Louisiana Kitchen” in 1989. It was the first hardback cookbook I ever purchased.
That's more than two decades of practice, which as we know makes perfect. But my colleague Cecilia “Celie” Rabalais was born and raised in New Orleans, where she first learned to make this Cajun staple more than four decades ago watching her mother, Madeline Anderson, and grandmother, Lillian Anderson, cook.
Celie's ancestors didn't scribble down recipes, because measurements were never discussed. She learned to cook the way red beans come to life: by absorption. Celie said she watched, learned and, eventually, was allowed to help prepare meals; the lessons dedicated to memory. Spices were added in pinches, handfuls, shakes and twists. Ingredients were called for in general terms like “a few,” “some” or “a piece.” Everything was “to taste.” While exact measurements weren't taught, trusted brand names were the bible.
“I taught my daughters to cook the same way I learned,” Celie said. “Now, if they cook it that way or not is up to them, but I'm sure that a lot of their meals are cooked by instinct, and they just don't realize because it's embedded in their brains,” she said in her unmistakable Cajun accent.
Celie married a true Cajun from Luling, La., named Gerry Rabalais. The Rabalais family moved to Luling from Plaucheville, La., deep in the heart of Cajun country. Celie, Gerry and their daughters, Heather and Christine (now Hasse), moved to Edmond in August 1991, bringing with them their taste for good, old-fashioned, home-cooked Cajun food. Red beans and rice is a staple.