It amazes me that two places, only about 160 miles apart, can be so different. Normally I find similarities—especially through food. But in this case it’s the differences. Because New Orleans is different.
For the New Year, I left my current home in Cajun country to visit my parents for about a week in New Orleans. I never think about it until I’m actually there—how much the Mississippi defines the city. I mean, it’s nicknamed “The Crescent City” because of the way the city rests in a crook of the Mississippi River.
In Cajun country, I wake up to the sound of a crop duster engine as it prepares to pass over a rice field. Or to the whistle of a train as it chugs through the prairie. Or to a flock of geese honking overhead.
Growing up, I lived just blocks from the river. Although they live in a different house now, my parents still only live blocks away. Close enough to wake up to the clanging metal of ships docking or unloading or being loaded. (amazing how that sound carries across the wide river.) Or I wake up hearing the ships’ horns. A guttural, soulful, sad sound. As a child, I always pictured the ships sounding a mournful moan because they were sad to leave.
The Mississippi and the Gulf affect the climate differently than my Cajun prairie does. On New Year’s Eve afternoon, my dad, The Boy, and I went down to the river to get our Huck Finn on...to walk through the black willows on the batcher (the area between the levee and the river), climb on rocks, survey what the river washed up, and watch ships and paddle wheelers pass by.
|Chalmette Terminal, Port of St. Bernard|
low New Year's Eve fog on the river
But every now and then good ole NOLA shows herself in my Cajun town. Especially since Katrina (so I'm told--I moved here after all that). It might be that I hear a voice in a crowd or on the next aisle in the store. The accent and sometimes even the word choice make me say, “I hear New Orleans.” My best friend and her family are Katrina evacuees. I think most people around here think she’s a little crazy, a little loud, maybe shares a little too much. But she is New Orleans. And she felt like family the first second I walked into her house.
With Katrina evacuees came New Orleans food. And I think that’s pretty darn cool. NO people dig food. But mostly they dig their food. Mr. Ricky, who owns a small corner grocery where I live, told me that he had to add a few items to his inventory because “all those New Orleans people were so desperate for this that and the other.” One of those items is “pickle meat.” Even though it's spelled "pickled meat," no one says it that way. It's "pickle meat." And it’s a common seasoning for red beans and rice.
Notes, Tips, Tricks:
* Old beans will take longer to cook. If your grocery store doesn't have a high turnover of dried beans, keep this in mind.
* This dish freezes well, but just like freezing gumbo, keep the rice separate.
* For a creamy texture, mash some of the beans with the back of a spoon or a potato masher. My great-grandma always mashed her beans against the side of the pot with her wooden spoon. I'm really not sure why I find the need to dirty another dish.
Stir your bean mash back into the pot.
Have some cooked rice ready.
Go wild and have some green onions and/or parsley chopped for the top.
Go insane and pass the hot sauce at the table.
Printer Friendly Recipe
White Beans & Rice
from Ms. enPlace
1 lb white beans, soaked and ready to go*
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped (including leaves)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2-3/4 lb pickle meat
14-16 oz smoked sausage cut in half moons, coins, or diced
1 tsp salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp black pepper, or to taste
1/2-1 tsp Tony's
1 tsp dried thyme
1-2 bay leaves
few dashes of hot sauce
water to cover beans
cooked white rice
chopped green onion and/or parsley for garnish
Heat oil in a Dutch oven. Saute the onion, bell pepper, celery, and garlic until tender. Add the pickle meat and smoked sausage along with the seasonings and hot sauce. Mix together. Add the drained soaked beans and stir gently to combine. Pour in enough water to cover the beans by 1-2 inches. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Continue simmering until beans are tender, adding water if needed. Before serving, taste for seasoning and adjust. Mash about a cup of the beans for texture. Serve over white rice and garnish with green onions and/or parsley. Pass more hot sauce at the table.
*To soak beans, either soak in room temperature tap water overnight, or bring beans in a pot of water to a boil, cover, cut off heat, and soak for about 1 hour.
A recipe for making your own pickle meat can be found at New Orleans Cuisine.
Here's my recipe for red beans & rice, which can also be made with pickle meat.