A lighter version of a classic New Orleans Creole dish
One of our favorite comfort foods is red beans and rice—that spicy dish found everywhere in Louisiana. It’s particularly nice in cold weather because it warms you up in a hurry.
But it’s also a hearty dish, so it fills you up in a hurry too.
What to do when you want the terrific flavor of red beans and rice, but don’t want such a hefty meal? Just transform the dish into soup.
Red Beans and Rice Soup makes a great one-dish meal. But it’s not quite as caloric as the traditional version—which is a good thing for those of us still trying to lose that holiday bloat.
It’s also a smart way to celebrate Mardi Gras. Which arrives, of course, next week.
Recipe: Red Beans and Rice Soup
This recipe is a riff off our more standard version of Red Beans and Rice.
The classic dish is a thick stew served over heaps of rice (in fact, sometimes the rice seems to be the dominant ingredient). Our soup version is much brothier, so the stew part gets diluted. And we use much less rice—it’s more accent than centerpiece.
This dish does take some time to make. Soaking the beans requires at least an hour, then cooking time adds another 2 hours or more (most of it unattended). Prep time is half an hour or so—but you can do that while the beans are simmering.
This recipe makes 4 to 5 quarts (or even more, if you like a really soupy soup). So serve it when you’re expecting a crowd.
But leftovers freeze really well, too. So you can make this recipe and have soup for a month.
- 1 pound dried red beans (dark red kidney beans are commonly available, as are small “red” beans)
- ~14 cups water, ham stock, or chicken stock (we often use ham or chicken base to make stock; see Notes)
- 1½ cups diced onion (about 2 medium onions; exact quantity not critical)
- 1 cup diced celery (3 or 4 ribs; again, exact quantity not critical)
- 1 medium green bell pepper
- 1 bunch green scallions (optional)
- 4 to 6 cloves of garlic (to taste)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil (or other oil of your choice)
- ~1 teaspoon Kosher salt (to taste; see Notes)
- 1 to 1½ pounds andouille sausage (may substitute a spicy smoked sausage like kielbasa)
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or more, to taste)
- 1 teaspoon oregano (or more, to taste)
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)
- 8 or 9 shakes from a bottle of hot sauce, such as Tabasco (optional; or to taste)
- 2 to 3 cups of cooked white rice (or to taste)
- garnish of minced green tips from scallions, or minced parsley (optional)
- Quick soak the dried beans: Pick over the beans to remove any dirt or stones. Place the beans in a large cooking pot or Dutch oven (one that holds 7 quarts or more), and add enough water to cover the beans by 3 inches. Bring the water to a boil and let it boil for 2 minutes. Then remove the cooking pot from the heat, cover it, and let it sit for an hour (longer is OK). See Notes for alternatives to the quick-soak method.
- When ready to prepare the soup, drain the beans. Place the beans back in the cooking pot, then add about 14 cups of water or stock (you may need to add more later). Bring the beans to a simmer on medium stovetop heat, then reduce the heat so the beans simmer very slowly. Skim off any scum that may rise to the surface. Set a timer for 45 minutes.
- While the beans are simmering, prep the remaining ingredients (this will take 20 to 30 minutes, so time accordingly): Peel the onions and cut them into dice of ½ inch or a bit smaller. Set aside.
- Wash and dry the celery, then peel off the stringy outer bits. Cut the celery into pieces of ½ inch or so. Set aside.
- Wash and dry the green bell pepper, then cut it in half. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds and discard them, and cut away the white ribs. Cut the bell pepper into pieces of ½ inch or so. Set aside.
- Wash and dry the scallions (you can just shake the water off). Cut off the root ends, then mince both the white and green parts. Set aside (you may want to reserve some of the minced green tips for garnish).
- Peel the garlic and mince it finely, or cut it into thin slices. Set aside.
- Place a large skillet (preferably nonstick) on medium stovetop heat. When hot, add the olive oil. When the oil has heated (15 seconds or so—it’ll shimmer), add the onions. Season with salt (to taste), and sauté the onions for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut the sausage into halves or quarters lengthwise. Then cut the sausage across into pieces of ½ inch or less. Set aside.
- After the onions have been cooking for 5 minutes, add the chopped celery, bell pepper, and scallions to the skillet. Sauté the mixture for another 4 to 5 minutes.
- Add the garlic to the skillet and sauté for a minute.
- Anytime after the 45-minute timer goes off (Step 2; exact timing not critical), scrape the onion mixture into the cooking pot containing the beans. Add the thyme, oregano, cayenne pepper, and hot sauce to the bean mixture.
- Now add the sausage pieces to the skillet (you may add extra oil if you wish, though that usually won’t be necessary). Cook the sausage for 5 minutes or so (to brown it a bit).
- Add the browned sausage pieces to the cooking pot containing the beans. Add more water or stock if necessary (you’re aiming for a fairly soupy consistency; feel free to add even more stock if you like a very liquidy soup). Taste the mixture, then add more seasoning if necessary. Cook the soup at a simmer for another 45 minutes to 1 hour (until the beans are soft and tender).
- While the soup is cooking, prepare the rice according to package directions. Once the soup is cooked, you’re ready to add the rice to the cooking pot. (Before you add the rice. you may want to break up the beans a bit with an immersion blender to thicken the soup; see Notes.) After adding the rice, stir the mixture to combine all ingredients.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and serve. If you like, you can garnish each serving with minced green scallion tips or minced parsley. We always serve this soup with a bottle of hot sauce so those who want a spicier dish can add more heat.
- Instead of quick-soaking the beans (Step 1), you can soak them the night before you make the soup. Just pick over the beans to remove any dirt or stones. Place the beans in a large cooking pot or Dutch oven, then cover them in water by at least 3 inches. Allow the beans to soak overnight. When you’re ready to proceed, continue with Step 2.
- You can make this dish without soaking the beans at all. But the beans will take much longer to cook—so add at least an hour to the cooking time in Step 2.
- The traditional red beans and rice dish often is made with a ham bone, but that’s something most of us don’t usually have on hand. For this dish, we substitute ham stock or chicken stock (broth). The quickest and easiest way to make stock is by using soup base—a concentrated paste that’s sold in the soup aisle of your supermarket. Just mix the paste with water (using as much as you need to make the flavor as strong as you wish).
- You can also add ham hocks or shanks to the pot in Step 2 and cook them with the beans. Remove the ham shanks before adding the rice (Step 15). If you like, you can let the ham pieces cool a bit, then cut the meat off the bones, dice it, and add the pieces to the soup pot. (Even when we do this, we generally need to add some ham base to make a stronger flavored broth.)
- Andouille is a spicy Louisiana sausage that’s flavored with garlic. It’s usually made with pork, although beef versions are also available. Most of the national brands you’ll find in US supermarkets aren’t very good, so look for a local brand. Even better, look for one that’s made in Louisiana. If you can’t find a decent andouille sausage, just substitute a good-quality kielbasa or other smoked sausage.
- Adjust the spices in this dish to your taste. We sometimes add a couple teaspoons of Cajun or Creole spice mix. Be aware, however, that commercial mixes often are very salty.
- Speaking of salt, we generally use the Kosher variety. This is coarser than regular table salt, so it doesn’t seem as “salty” by volume. If you’re using table salt, reduce the amount specified for seasoning the onions (Step 8) by about half.
- We sometimes add Worchestershire sauce to this dish. If that idea appeals to you, try adding a tablespoon when you add the other spices (Step 12).
- If you use an immersion (stick) blender to break down the beans (Step 15), use one with a metal shaft. If your immersion blender has a plastic shaft, the hot liquid may crack it. Ask us how we know.
- You can add more (or less) rice than the amount specified in the recipe. Less rice of course means fewer calories. BTW, we cook the rice separately rather than dumping it into the soup pot to cook so that it doesn’t absorb too much of the soup broth.
- Red beans and rice is a Creole dish, not Cajun. Creole refers to “people descended from the colonial settlers in Louisiana, especially those of French and Spanish descent.” By contrast, Cajuns are descended from Acadians—“French-speakers from Acadia in what are now the Canadian Maritimes.” For information on the difference between the two cuisines, see our conversation below.
“So I can never remember the difference between Cajun and Creole food,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, spooning her Red Beans and Rice Soup.
“Well, Cajun food tends to be rustic,” I said, between slurps. “While Creole is more European-influenced. Creole dishes tend to be a bit fancier, and are quite common in New Orleans restaurants.”
“Either way, this is yummy stuff,” said Mrs K R. “All the flavor of the mother dish, but not nearly as heavy.”
“Yup,” I said. “In fact, the flavor seems even more souped up than the original version.”
“I’m going to ignore that pun,” said Mrs K R.
“But you appreciated my soup-to-nuts explanation of Cajun and Creole cuisines?” I said.
“Keep that up, and you’ll be in the soup,” said Mrs K R.
Duck soup, anyone?
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