Louis Armstrong, one of New Orleans' favorite sons, famously signed his letters "red beans & ricely yours" in tribute to one of his--and the rest of New Orleans'--most beloved hometown dishes.
Traditionally, red beans and rice were made every Monday, which was also laundry day. The idea was that the lady of the house (whether it was her house or someone else's) would start the red beans cooking in the morning, go out back to do the laundry all day, and when it was suppertime, the beans (and the laundry) would be done. The kind of dish that didn't need much attention, but it still filled up the family at the end of the day. Plus, it's really cheap to make.
It's usually made with bacon drippings or salt pork or a ham hock to flavor it and some sausages on the side or right on in there, but as a vegetarian, I've had to make some adjustments. That's when my dear friend's mama, a born-and-raised New Orleanian, told me her secret ingredient: soy sauce. Brilliant! It adds saltiness and a bit of richness that is just right.
She also introduced me to the joys of the crockpot or slow cooker. The ultimate in throw-it-all-in-there-and-come-back-later meal. Awesome.
Red Beans and Rice (serves 6+)
1 lb dried red beans (Camilla brand is the classic), soaked overnight
1/2 green pepper, chopped (chop the veggies the night before, too, for extra speediness in the morning)
1/2 onion, chopped
1 toe garlic, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 14-oz can diced tomatoes with juice (optional, but really good)
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. thyme
3 Tbsp. soy sauce (or to taste)
cooked white rice to feed 6 (you can always refrigerate & reheat it)
Tabasco sauce, Crystal hot sauce, Tony C's...whatever you like for spiciness
Soak the beans overnight, then drain. They'll be wrinkly with the skins sliding off--that's OK. Toss them into your slow cooker. Then toss in everything else (except for the rice). Add about 4 or 5 cups of water, enough to cover everything, but not enough to make it into soup--you can always add more later if necessary. Turn the slow cooker on high, cover, and walk away. Check it during the day if you can to make sure the water hasn't boiled or soaked completely away; if it looks really low (the beans are scorching) add a cup or so. I found it takes a good 8 hours on high to get the right consistency: soft and saucy but still identifiable as beans. (I've done it overnight on low, too, about 10 or 11 hours.) Serve over hot rice and add hot sauces to your heart's content!
Good sides include hot French bread with butter and smothered (or just steamed) greens with butter. Hell, why wait for Monday?