Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice

Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice - cew-me - Attribution-share alike
cew-me - Attribution-share alike

Red beans and rice are traditional New Orleans fare, the (very inexpensive) dish that Louis Armstrong relished at Buster Holmes' famous dive in the French quarter, according to John and Ann Egerton's Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, In History (1993).

The Original Beans and Rice

The popular New Orleans dish was originally made with small red beans, which are native to the Americas and Caribbean. The USDA's Nutrient Data laboratory (2010) reports that red beans have the highest anti-oxidant capacity of any beans. The dish is sometimes also made with red kidney beans, also flavorful, but a bit larger than red beans, and having more toxins (thus requiring longer soaking perhaps) particularly for people with stomach sensitivities.

The original rice used came from Africa. "Parboiled" rice is used in this recipe. When parboiled rice is made, the nutrients in the rice hull are driven into the grain. It thus has almost all the nutrients that brown rice has, is a bit more tender, and cooks faster.

A Vegetarian Makeover

Traditional red beans and rice called for bacon, ham hock, or salt pork, but this vegetarian version relies on the wonderful flavors of grapeseed and olive oil. Buster Holmes's New Orleans restaurant, where I ate red beans and rice occasionally as a teenager many years ago in the 70s, marinated one of his versions of red beans overnight in wine and seasonings. Unlike vinegar, wine boils out of the broth more rapidly than water as it cooks. Wine is not quite so acidic as vinegar either, and thus is less likely to keep beans from cooking. Other cooks cook red beans with a little beer. My simplified recipe, with a shorter soak time than Buster's, cooks the beans in plain old water with of course the grapeseed oil, but you can add a few tablespoons of of beer or wine, if you have some, to the cooking liquid. The onions and celery at least are marinated and sauteed in wine vinegar (a bit cheaper than red wine!), and these are added to the beans once they are tender.

Since New Orleans has a French tradition, the best way to flavor red beans, in the absence of salt pork, may be with a bit of French herbs (bay leaves, and herbes de Provence, which is a mixture of savory, thyme, basil, rosemary, and lavender), plus some fresh Italian parsley or cilantro (the latter grows wild where I live, albeit in cooler weather) and a bit of cumin.

Cooking Time, Pressure Cooking

Good news for pressure cooker fans: both the beans and the rice can be prepared in a pressure cooker! If you only have one cooker, cook the beans first: they take about ten or at most fifteen minutes; combine them in a regular pot with the mariinated onions and celery while you then cook the rice separately. If not cooked in a pressure cooker, the beans cook in about an hour, the rice in twenty to twenty-five minutes. Of course, the beans must be soaked three hours first in either case.



  1. Wash the beans carefully in cold water. Remove any that are wrinkled or discolored (otherwise, these can take forever to cook). Then cover them with enough water to cover them plus an inch or so more, and soak for three or four hours.
  2. Discard the soak water, rinse the beans thoroughly once more, place in a heavy duty pot or pressure cooker, and add water till the water level is 1-and-1/2 inches higher than the beans. Add 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil, a pinch of dried, crumbled laver or kombu if you have it, a crumbled bay leaf, and a pinch of salt, plus a few tablespoons of red wine or beer if you like.
  3. Bring the beans to a boil, cover, and simmer for one hour or slightly longer (about ten minutes or slightly longer in a pressure cooker; cooking these in the pressure cooker will require slightly but not significantly less water too).
  4. Meanwhile, roast the garlic, chile peppers, and poblano pepper. To roast the garlic cloves, cut off the ends, remove any blemishes, brush lightly with oil, and place in a broiling pan and roast at 400 degrees for about seven minutes for each side. To roast the peppers, wash and core the peppers, cut into strips, brush lightly with oil, and again place the strips in a broiling pan and roast at 400 degrees for about seven minutes each side. To make the peppers really sweet and slightly crispy, remove the garlic at the end, and broil the peppers for about two minutes.
  5. Wash and mince the celery and onion.
  6. Place the remaining two crumbled bay leaves together with the herbes de provence and cumin in a large skillet or dutch oven with a cover. Add the vinegar, the remaining tablespoon of grapeseed oil, the tablespoon of olive oil, and the juice of one lemon.
  7. Heat till hot and stir in the minced onion and celery. Sautee just till tender (the onions should be transparent but not burnt).
  8. Squeeze in the roasted garlic.
  9. Mince and stir in the roasted peppers.
  10. Add the cooked beans together with the juice of the remaining lemon, and stir in the minced parsley or cilantro. Add the minced tomato if you are using that.
  11. Simmer the beans, peppers, and herbs on low so that the flavors meld while you cook the rice.

This serves about three or four (as a vegetrian main dish), perhaps with a good crusty loaf of French bread or some skillet cornbread, or four or five as a side dish. The beans are nicely spiced as they simmer with the peppers, but you can pour on hot sauce too if you want.