Vegetarian New Orleans-Style Red Beans & Rice

What, more beans?

Look, I warned you. I’m a bean girl. And to be fair, this bean dish was not chosen by me. It was chosen by a committee, an eight-member group better known as The Crawfish Boil Committee, who spend countless hours every year putting together a bang-up party and food-fest better known as The Annual Crawfish Boil. This year they needed a red beans and rice upgrade and I, being a bean girl, volunteered to tackle the project.

The mission: vegetarian red beans and rice for at least 150 people. The problem: I have never eaten authentic, New Orleans-style red beans and rice. The other problem: my kitchen is sized for 2-4 people, not 150 people. The final problem: it’s hard to make beans exciting when two feet away there is some guy in overalls dumping a giant vat of steaming-hot crawfish down a newspaper-covered table. It just is.

More exciting than beans.

But despite all the problems, I was happy with my final beans, which were based on a Gourmet recipe that had encouraging reviews. The cloves and allspice add an almost Middle-Eastern undertone, while the Tabasco and chipotle provide a little heat. The chipotle also adds some smokiness, my addition along with smoked paprika, to make up for the lack of smoked sausage. If you were making it for a smaller group, a little vegetarian sausage would probably be a nice addition. It wasn’t in the budget for my giant pot o’ beans, but the crowd still ate them up.

A special thanks goes to committee member Todd, who as far as I know has zero to less-than-zero interest in cooking, but had some strong recommendations for making vegetarian red beans better, namely green bell peppers and Worcestershire sauce. He was right.

Looking for more healthy vegetarian bean recipes? Here are a few favorites:

Middle Eastern Spiced Lentils & Kale with Caramelized Onions (Mujadarah)
Black Bean & Pumpkin Soup with Peanuts & Lime
Garlicky Chickpea & Arugula Salad

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice

Yield: 10 side servings

{ Ingredients }

1 pound dried small red beans, washed and picked over
1 large onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks (with leaves), chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
6 cups water
4 bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh oregano
1 canned chipotle chile in adobo, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce (Annie's Naturals or other anchovy-free brand)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon Tabasco

{ Directions }

The night before, put the beans in a large bowl and cover with cold water.

Preheat the oven to 225 °F and arrange the racks to accommodate the pot you'll be cooking the beans in.

Drain the soaked beans. In a 5-quart dutch oven or other heavy pot with a lid, place the beans and all remaining ingredients except the salt and the Tabasco. Bring to a boil over high heat on the stove. Cover and place on the middle rack in the oven.

Bake for 30 minutes and add 1 teaspoon of salt. Bake for another 30 minutes and add the second teaspoon of salt. Bite into a bean to test for doneness; if they are still hard, return the pot to the oven for another 30 minutes or more. (Depending on the freshness of the beans, they make take longer to cook.) When the beans are cooked through, add the Tabasco and more salt if needed. Remove the bay leaves and thyme and oregano stalks. Serve over plain rice.

Additional Notes:
• If making this recipe for 150 people, 12 pounds of beans is about right.
• This recipe can also be made in the slow cooker.* Cook the beans on HIGH for 3-4 hours. (Time again depends on the freshness of the beans.)
• The Tabasco is added at the end because acidity slows the softening of beans and I have a feeling my first couple batches took longer because I was adding it at the beginning.

*But not more than two pounds of beans at a time. Trust me.

Adapted from Gourmet