It means cutoff shorts and flip flop tan lines. It means cedar-lined garden beds overflowing with fire engine red tomatoes and bright yellow squash blossoms. It means smoke that billows upwards from backyard barbecues and water droplets that fall off of fancily colored whiskey cocktails in the afternoon heat.
And by those descriptors alone, I’m sure we can all agree: Summer is heavenly.
But, if I’m being totally honest with you here, summer also kind of pushes my buttons. Because about halfway through, I inevitably find myself longing for the soups, the stews, and the slow roasted meats of cooler weather seasons, seeking the coziness of their confines.
My range doesn’t really help with matters either. She looks at me all silver and cute, her black knobs furious (and, for once, clean) from the past month that I’ve spent attached to my outdoor grill. And all at once I cave, turning my nose up at summer like a child who’s tired of her favorite toy. I flip on the flame to my burners, exhaling a deep sigh of relief with her as she fires up for the first time after weeks of abandonment, and pull a pot of water onto the stovetop. For the next several hours, I run back and forth from the kitchen into the dining room where I stick my face in front of our lone window A/C unit, letting it blast my skin for just a second, before hurrying back to my range. And together we make magic, pretending – for just an evening– that this merciless heat wave that’s hovered over Portland for the last three weeks has finally passed.
Winter isn’t just coming; winter is here, I lie.
For this summer’s “OMG I need a slow cooked pot of pseudo-wintery anything and I need it now” day, I made a big beautiful batch of Summery Red Beans and Rice with beans that were soaked overnight with bay leaves, garlic, and shallots to infuse them with flavor before being simmered low and slow until tender. Cooking dried beans this way, as opposed to boiling them at a rolling boil, keeps their skins fully in tact while their middles become smooth and creamy.
Unlike traditional red beans and rice, in which the beans are thick and viscous, this dish is soft and brothy. Also, in a nod to summer’s bounty, it’s packed with vegetables, something that your traditional red beans and rice—and, well, most classic New Orleans cuisine, really—are not. I’ve included asparagus and collard greens here, but you could really use whatever vegetable is handy and inspiring you that day (think: green beans, spinach, kale, or zucchini spirals.) The trick to getting this soupier, more vegetable-packed version of red beans and rice just right, though, is to make sure the vegetables are all cooked just until tender. You don’t want lifeless greens that have simmered in their own slop for so long that they become a veritable shade of “canal green.” (For the record, any New Orleanian will tell you that this is a legitimate color, one that is appropriately named after New Orleans’ infamously dirty canals.) You want greens that retain some semblance of vibrancy.
Of course, come tomorrow, I’ll be returning to my grill—meat, veggies, and tongs in hand. Ninety-degree (plus) weather demands it. But for tonight, just one night, you can find me posted up in front of my little window unit, sipping soup, eating beans, and feeling all kinds of cozy.
In case you’re not familiar, red beans and rice is a dish eaten throughout Louisiana, specifically on Mondays, a day that was traditionally dedicated to laundry, leaving little time for cooking. Things have changed a lot since then, especially following the invention of the washing machine, but still, come Monday night, in homes and restaurants all over New Orleans, you can find people eating their red beans and rice with a side of buttery cornbread, just like nothing has changed at all.
- 1.5 cups of dry red kidney beans, about 8 ounces
- 2 fresh bay leaves (or 4 dried)
- 4 cloves of garlic, divided (2 smashed and the other 2 chopped finely)
- 3 shallots, divided (one quartered and the other 2 sliced in rings)
- 2-3 tablespoons of butter
- 10 Collard greens leaves, stalks removed and leaves cut into bite-sized pieces
- 4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
- 1 lb of asparagus, ends cracked off and shaved for added tenderness (shaving optional) and the remaining parts sliced into bite sized pieces
- Cajun seasoning, to taste (I used about 1.5 teaspoons of Tony Chachere’s)
- Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
- 1-2 tablespoons of Louisiana hot sauce, plus more for serving
- 12 ounces of Andouille sausage, sliced into bite sized rounds
- Green onions, chopped into small rounds using both the green and white parts (for garnish)
- The night before you plan to serve, place the dry beans in a large bowl with the bay leaves, 2 cloves of garlic (smashed), and 1 quartered shallot. Cover with cold water, about 4 cups, or until water is roughly 1 inch above the beans. Let sit for 8-24 hours covered with a dishtowel in the refrigerator. If you notice the beans have absorbed all of the water within the first few hours, add more. Before you’re ready to use the beans, remove the shallot and garlic. They can be discarded as can any remaining water that was not absorbed by the beans.
- Add chicken (or vegetable) stock to a large pot and bring to a boil. Add beans and the bay leaves that were in them. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook them in chicken stock for 1-2 hours, or until tender. You want the water to be moving but not boiling here as too much heat will cause the beans to burst and the skins to shed. The reason the recommended cooking time such a large range here is because it varies with certain factors, such as altitude and water temperature. You’ll know they’re tender by taste testing. I recommend tasting starting at 1 hour and every 15 minutes after if you continue cooking the beans longer. Because much of the broth will be absorbed into the beans and/or evaporate as they cook, you will likely need to add more water (or broth if you prefer) as the beans cook. I added 4 additional cups of water towards the end, but you could scale that up or down to suit your tastes for brothiness.
- While the beans are cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 shallots (sliced in thin rings) and cook until softened and slightly brown on the edges, about 4-5 minutes. Add the remaining 2 cloves of garlic (chopped finely) and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add garlic and shallots to the pot of beans.
- In the same skillet that the garlic and shallots were cooked in, heat 1 more tablespoon of butter and brown the andouille sausage over medium heat until it is cooked all the way through, about 4-6 minutes. Set aside once cooked through.
- Once the beans are tender, add the andouille sausage to the pot. Season with Cajun seasoning, salt, pepper, and Louisiana hot sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Add the collard greens and asparagus to the pot with the beans and simmer until just tender, about 5-7minutes.
- Remove bay leaves from the pot.
- Serve with a side of white rice, chopped green onions, and additional Louisiana hot sauce.
While I prefer using dry beans because they have superior flavor and have a less mealy texture to them, you can also use canned beans instead. Just make sure to rinse them first and cut back on the amount of water/broth that you're adding. I imagine 2 cans of red kidney beans would be plenty, but use your judgment and allow your taste preferences to guide you!
I've included meat in this version, but you could just as easily omit the sausage for a vegetarian dish as the beans have plenty of protein on their own.