Fall is here. A 91 year old friend of mine said to me “I hate saying ‘Fall.’ Fall sounds so blech. Autumn sounds much lovelier. ” She repeats “autumn,” and makes the u’s sound particularly round in her English accent. “See, isn’t that nicer?” I’d be inclined to agree, but I still call this season fall out of habit. And now I will go into the typical, contrived, unoriginal, “I love the fall and everything about it” paragraph. With a little more science, and a little less romance.
I love this time of year. It’s leaf abscission time (sorry, the plant physiologist in me is coming out). The chlorophyll that gives the leaves their green colour disappears as the days get shorter and colder, unveiling the yellow xanthophylls and orange carotenoids that are always there, but normally masked by the green. In some trees like maple, deep red anthocyanins are produced before the leaf finally leaves its roost, cascades down and becomes part of a begging-to-be-played-in leaf drift. All my favourite colours are fall leaf colours- yellow, wine red, fire-engine red, orange. My husband and I spent a year in the Okangan, where there were hardly any maples, and we desperately missed the colourful autumns we grew up with in Nova Scotia (okay, so now you know where I am from). Thankfully, the Okanagan has a harvest season as brilliant and bountiful as ours. Here and there, my friends and neighbours share(d) so much with me – zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, corn, concord grapes, hot peppers, zucchini, garlic, beans, zucchini, apples, daikon radishes, winter squash, zucchini. And more zucchini. Did I mention the ridiculous quantity of zucchini that everyone seems to be drowning in come harvest time? Every year. But, it’s great. It forces generosity. I saw (on more than one occasion) tables piled high with zucchini, set up at the end of driveways with a sign written by a desperate gardener saying “Free.” I was thinking of sharing a unique and original zucchini recipe in the hopes that people would use it and stop dumping the poor summer squash on my doorstep (I have several in my fridge, as we speak. Err..type. Read? Blog. As I blog), but the weather is so crisp and cool I want to share something supremely warming and satisfying instead. Red beans and rice. This is particularly appropriate, since today is Monday, and I also have a load of laundry on as I type.
I don’t know how I found out about red beans and rice. I mean, I’ve always known red beans and rice as rajma chawal (kidney beans and rice), which is one of my favourite punjabi dishes, but Louisiana style red beans and rice is still a fairly new addition to my stew pot.
So, Red Beans and Rice. My way. Which is to say, red-bean-and-rice-the-bastardized-vegetarian-way, since the authentic dish calls for leftover ham and/or pork bones from Sunday night’s dinner (hence it always being made on Monday, slow cooked and simmering all day while the women did the week’s laundry). This is so far from authentic that trying to even remotely connect it with anything Louisiana is probably sacrilege, but the flavour is delicious and I can’t think of what else to call it. Hmmm. Perhaps something like “red beans and rice, inspired by red beans and rice.” My meat eating husband likes this, although I don’t think he’s ever eaten proper Creole style red beans and rice so he probably doesn’t know what he is missing. I usually make this (or chili, or something else bean stew-y) on Fall/Winter Sundays, so it can simmer while I am home doing chores (same idea as a Monday laundry day).
Again, as always, the proportions are very approximate.
2 cups dry kidney beans- soaked over night
1 pepper (I prefer red, but any colour is fine)
1 large stalk celery
1 large onion
1 carrot (optional)
2 tsp dry thyme
2 bay leaves
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce (optional)
2-4 tbsp barbecue sauce (optional)
1/8 cup vinegar, or 1/4 cup some type of leftover pickle juice (*1)
Salt and pepper to taste
Bring the soaked beans to a boil, and reduce heat to a simmer. Chop the vegetables finely, and saute in a couple tablespoons butter or oil (I prefer a combination) over medium- low heat until very soft and sweet. Do not salt (*2). Put in the pot of simmering kidney beans along with the bay leaves, thyme, and garlic, and continue to simmer until the beans are cooked. Add the remaining ingredients, and continue the simmering. The longer you cook this, the better it tastes. When the beans are very soft, crush about 1/4 to 1/3 of the beans against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon so you get a creamy, thick stew. At this point you need to stir frequently so it doesn’t stick to the bottom and burn.
Serve with rice! I used to make lots so I’d have a quick meal option during the work week. Sometimes I bake the leftover red beans (which taste even better the next day) with cooked pasta, tomato sauce, tuna, and cheese for a delicious spin on tuna casserole, or mash them for use in bean burritos.
I realize this is not a helpful recipe if you are drowning in summer squash. I promise to share some good zucchini recipes next time.
- I prefer pickle juice, particularly pickle juice from pickled hot peppers. I don’t throw away pickle juice – I use it in potato salad or stew recipes that call for vinegar or anything that needs a tangy sweetness added to it. Waste not, want not.
- In my experience, if you salt or add tomatoes to the beans before they are cooked, they will not soften properly. And soft, mashable beans are important to the success of this dish!