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 flavour, 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.
MARDI GRAS RED BEANS AND RICE SOUP WITH ANDOUILLE SAUSAGE
Start to finish: 50 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil
9 ounces (3 links) turkey or chicken andouille sausage, diced into 1/2-inch chunks
2 cups medium chopped yellow onion (about 1 large)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning (purchased or use the recipe below)
Two 15 1/2 -ounce cans low-sodium red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups chopped celery (about 4 medium stalks)
1 1/2 cups chopped green or red bell pepper (about 1 large)
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 Turkish bay leaf
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice (1/2 cup uncooked produces 1 1/2 cups cooked)
In a large saucepan over medium, heat the oil. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a bowl.
Add the onion to the saucepan and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and Creole seasoning and cook, stirring, 1 minute.
While the onion and garlic are cooking, mash 1 cup of the kidney beans with a potato masher or fork, then add them to the saucepan. Add the celery, pepper, remaining whole beans, chicken broth and bay leaf. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Stir in the reserved sausage and the cooked rice. Cook until heated through. Discard the bay leaf before serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 220 calories; 50 calories from fat (23 per cent of total calories); 6 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 30 g carbohydrate; 7 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 12 g protein; 740 mg sodium.
Start to finish: 5 minutes
Makes about 1/3 cup
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon hot paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
In a small bowl combine all ingredients. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."