Have you ever taken a trip to a place you knew little or nothing about? Just gotten the urge to go, so you booked a ticket and went with only your bag and a vague idea as to what you were going to do when you got there?
A couple years ago Ben and I did just that when we hopped aboard a plane and headed south to spend a week in the Big Easy – New Orleans.
At the time neither of us knew a great deal about the city, except what we’d seen on the news during coverage of Hurricane Katrina, and our experience in the south was limited to sunny SoCal, Epcot Center, and watching Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood on repeat in college.
With a why not attitude though, and no expectations, we packed up, headed out, and ended up having the time of our lives!
From whooping it up on Bourbon Street with huge ass beers, to learning more about the history of the South on several plantation tours, and exploring nearly every inch of the French Quarter, Ben and I found the city, surrounding areas, and people to be simply enchanting.
I think it it officially beat San Francisco as my favorite city in the US as I was sitting at the oldest bar in America, Lafitte’s in the French Quarter, sipping an ice cold Abita beer, and watching horse drawn carriages clop by, thinking – this is the life.
One of the things we enjoyed most about our trip was of course, the food. There’s no shortage of restaurants in NOLA, more packed into a smaller area than a lot of cities I’ve been to, and if there was a line at the door, you knew it was worth waiting for. Especially if it was a Mother’s Po’ Boy smothered in “debris”.
Or a mouthwatering side of red beans & rice. One week wasn’t nearly enough time to get our fill of this famous Southern side dish. Fluffy white rice engulfed in a savory thick sauce packed with creamy beans, and salty andouille sausage. I mean…
Today New Orleans is celebrating Fat Tuesday, during Mardi Gras, and although we can’t be there to join in on the fun, at least we can eat like we’re in the Big Easy with homemade Crock Pot Red Beans & Rice.
Fat Tuesday is traditionally celebrated by eating indulgent, over-the-top foods (hence FAT Tuesday) before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season begins tomorrow, Ash Wednesday. I took the name a little less literally though, and made a lightened up version for dinner.
No bacon grease or extra fat here! Just beans, veggies, seasoning and, ok, some decadent andouille sausage. Totally worth it, btw. Each huge serving of the recipe is packed with protein and fiber, and clocks in at just 250 calories (without the rice.) As if it couldn’t get any better, the crock pot did 90% of the work for me!
Start the recipe by chopping up what’s called the “Holy Trinity” in Southern Cajun & Creole cooking - bell peppers, celery and onions in roughly equal quantities. BTW, click here for an explanation of “Cajun” and “Creole” cooking and culture. Interesting stuff, me thinks!
Psst – my trick for not making a mess when cutting bell peppers is to cut each “cheek” off, leaving the stem and seeds neatly intact.
Chop the bell pepper and follow suit with the onions and celery, then toss everybody into the pool, aka a 4-quart crock pot.
Next add in a full pound of dried red kidney beans. No need to soak ‘em ahead of time or nothin’.
Then add in the salty awsomeness that is andouille sausage.
Andouille sausage is a smoked pork sausage used heavily in Cajun cooking. It is delicious, and I nearly doubled the amount the original recipe called for. Livin’ on the edge!
Finally, add minced garlic,
Creole seasoning (I halved this recipe and still had a ton leftover,)
and lots of water.
Give the whole thing a stir then cook for 7.5 hours on high, cracking the lid open for the last half hour so the sauce can thicken up. YOUR HOUSE WILL SMELL AMAZING!!!
Cook some fluffy white rice to sit underneath, and soak up all that succulent sauce. Top with green onions for color and crunch, and have at it my friends!
Crock Pot Red Beans & Rice
Barely adapted from MyRecipes.com
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
14oz andouille sausage, sliced
3 tablespoons Creole seasoning (I made 1/2 of this recipe and still had some leftover)
1lb dried red kidney beans
7 cups water
Place first 8 ingredients into a 4-quart crock pot and cook on high for 7.5 hours. Remove the lid partway for the last 30 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken slightly. Serve over cooked white rice.
I am not kidding you – this tasted just as good as anything we had in New Orleans. I couldn’t believe it!
Of course there was no “coat your tongue” feeling that you get with truly rich and fatty sauces (which must be enjoyed while on vacation – it’s the law) but honestly, it was thick and silky, and just a touch spicy. Ben and I both loved it. Leftovers are aplenty too. Which only lengthens the time I get to reminisce about our time down south. :)
Now if only there was a way make healthier beignets at home… ;)
Off to make Ben pour me a Sazerac…or two?! ;)
Have you ever traveled somewhere that totally exceeded your expectations? Where was it?