Red beans and rice is one of the signature dishes of New Orleans, which explains why Louis Armstrong, perhaps the city's best known ambassador, used to sign off his letters, "Red beans and ricely yours..."
With Mardi Gras upon us, I wanted to turn this classic dish into a hearty (and healthy) soup fit for a Mardi Gras party. Though Louisiana understandably is ground zero for Mardi Gras, people everywhere tend to get in the spirit and there's no reason for us not to join in.
All it took to transform the standard red beans and rice into soup was the addition of celery, onion and green bell peppers (often called the "the Holy Trinity" of New Orleans cuisine), a little Creole seasoning, some chicken stock, and several ounces of andouille sausage.
I modeled my Creole seasoning on the one associated with Commander's Palace (a landmark New Orleans restaurant) and the two most famous chefs to emerge from it — Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse.
At the core of the repertoires of both of these superstars is a special spice blend that includes powdered onion and garlic. I'm not much of a fan of powdered anything, but I make an exception for this seasoning mix. In this case, it turns a good soup into a great soup.
And let's not forget the noble supporting role played by andouille sausage. Brought to Louisiana in the mid-1700s by the state's French settlers, andouille is a coarsely ground pork sausage that's been spiced and smoked. Applegate Farms makes a good version that substitutes chicken and turkey for the usual pork, producing a sausage that is high in flavor, but lower in fat and calories. This recipe, which serves eight, required only 9 ounces of the andouille. If you chop it into small enough pieces, there'll be a chunk of it in every spoonful.
This dish is a great final resting place for your leftover rice, but if you don't have any kicking around, it's simple to make a fresh batch. Just boil up the rice as if it were pasta. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil, add rice and boil for about 45 minutes (brown rice takes longer than white to cook), then drain it. And since cooked rice freezes well, consider making extra to have on hand for other meals.
And the kidney beans (the red beans for which the dish is named) are little marvels. They're rich in protein and a terrific source of fiber. In combination with the rice, they will fill you up. Which is why I think of this recipe as a one-dish dinner. Just partner it with a green salad and you're good to go.
By the way, this soup is even better a few days later, and it freezes well. Feel free to add extra chicken broth or water if you would like it to be even soupier.
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