Red Beans and Ricely Yours
Happy 100th birthday to Camellia Brand beans and its staple New Orleans dish of red beans and rice. It's a traditional meal that's perfect any time of the year, although Monday's still prime time in the Crescent City. A smoked turkey leg works perfectly in a pot of beans — see the recipe below — and don't forget Camellia's black-eyed peas for New Year's!
Last year I interviewed Vince Hayward, CEO of Camellia Brand of New Orleans, the makers of red kidney beans found in almost every Louisiana kitchen. Making red beans and rice remains a tradition in the city, especially on Mondays. For years residents took the ham bone and ham remnants from Sunday dinner and added it to a pot while performing Monday chores, which is why visitors often find red beans and rice dishes scratched on restaurant chalkboards as Monday specials.
"It speaks to a familiar experience of enjoying something that's hardy and designed to feed a lot of people," Hayward said. "The dish is part of our history and our culture."
Hayward is the fourth generation to run the business packaging and selling kidney beans. Swayer Hayward arrived in New Orleans from the West Indies in 1850 to work in the cotton business but veered into working produce and dry goods. Hayward's great-grandfather, Lucius Hamilton Hayward, sold red beans to French Market vendors.
"We've been here a long time," Hayward told me.
Most packaged dry beans sold in New Orleans are Camellia. It's easier to find them in grocery stores these days, especially throughout the South, its primary market, but during my California years, my mother faithfully mailed them to me so I could create a hometown meal.
Usually, a pot of red beans consists of a ham hoke, ham pieces, tasso or andouille sausage, depending on your tastes and what's handy around the house. My mother preferred a ham hoke for flavoring as the beans cooked, but she would add pieces of ham later on. You can't go wrong with the addition of andouille sausage, which always adds its distinctive flavor. For vegans and vegetarians, just cook up the beans sans meat. My brother-in-law swore my naked Camellia red beans and rice was the best he'd ever tasted.
I soak my beans the night before, then rinse them the following morning and set them in a large pot for stewing with enough water or chicken broth to cover the beans (add more water or broth if necessary, especially when the beans start cooking down). Bring the mixture to a boil and then turn to low heat for a long simmer. If using meat, I sautée the meat in oil in a skillet until well cooked, then add Louisiana's holy trinity of sautéed onions, bell peppers and celery to the mix (I use the latter sparingly or not at all), until all is cooked down. Add the meat and vegetables and continue to simmer the beans. When the beans have cooked down and are nice and creamy, turn off the heat and spoon over Louisiana rice. Add chopped green onions on top and serve with hot cornbread or crusty French bread.
For a more complete red beans and rice recipe with detailed ingredients, click here.
For a little something different, especially at Thanksgiving when turkey leftovers abound, try red beans and rice with smoked turkey legs. You can find the recipe here.
Camellia Brand also sells a wide variety of beans, dinner and seasoning mixes and pasta. For holiday side dish suggestions, click here.
And let's not forget New Year's, since that festive day is on the horizon. Camellia sells black-eyed peas, which are perfect for New Year's "Hoppin' John," the traditional South feast destined to bring good luck. Here's a recipe for a pot of black-eyed peas to be enjoyed as 2024 rolls in.
Weird, Wacky & Wild South is written by New Orleans native Cheré Coen. Cooking has never been her forte (she prefers eating out across the South) but she makes a mean pot of red beans and rice.