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When I graduated from college in 2010, I quickly discovered I was a little naive when it came to the difficulty involved in getting a job following a deep recession.

Something that did ease the burden somewhat is that I was learning how to cook at the time, and it is significantly cheaper to make your own meals from scratch than it is when you’re relying on sauces, mixes, and the like to make dinner. I started skipping the jarred spaghetti sauce, the seasoning mixes, and the frozen chopped vegetables for canned tomatoes, unmixed spices, and fresh vegetables and noticed an immediate savings on my grocery receipts.

When it comes to cheap meals, though, few things beat red beans and rice, which I once calculated can cost as little as 34¢ for a huge serving if you use budget ingredients (and perhaps less depending on where you shop). That said, even if you splurge on heirloom red beans and ingredients from the expensive grocery store, the meal is still among the most inexpensive you can make.

Admittedly, my red beans and rice recipe might be a little controversial, as it involves creating a roux. Roux is a typical component of Louisiana gumbo, but it’s certainly not in most recipes you see for red beans and rice, and it’s nearly certain to raise dismay among grandmothers from Louisiana. That said, those grandmothers undoubtedly cheer for LSU, which means we can discount their dismay – in addition to their general worldviews – entirely (editor’s note: the authors of this blog grew up in Arkansas).

When making a roux, be very careful – the oil becomes incredibly hot, and you can burn yourself easily if you’re not careful. You also need to be careful not to burn the roux: some cooks even say you need to stir a roux constantly. Personally, I’ve found making a roux to be fairly forgiving, but I would suggest stirring more frequently the first few times you make it, as differences between stoves can cause the timing to vary significantly.

Red beans and rice is a great meal on any cold night – or any time you’re looking to save some money, of course. We often eat it by itself, but it’s also great served with a side of greens and buttery pistolettes.

red beans and rice

There’s always the age-old question regarding whether or not you should soak your beans. Generally, I find that my beans cook fine without a soak, and I always regret how much color (and flavor) is lost on those rare occasions when I do presoak. That said, if you must presoak your beans, I recommend adding a half teaspoon of salt to accelerate the softening process.

  • ⅔ cup flour
  • ½ cup vegetable oil, preferably corn or safflower
  • 1 celery rib, diced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 pound red kidney beans, picked over for debris and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon vegan Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ½ bay leaf
  • ½ teaspoon dry oregano
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • ⅛ teaspoon cayenne
  • 1 tablespoon dry red wine (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon Tabasco® or other hot sauce (optional)
  • a small handful parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 2 scallions, trimmed and chopped

In a large pot or dutch oven, combine 1/2 cup oil and 2/3 cup flour and heat over medium, stirring occasionally with a long silicone spoon or spatula (or metal if you’re using a metal pan). As the roux begins to brown and thicken, stir more frequently, scraping the bottom occasionally, ensuring that the flour doesn’t burn. Be very careful and stir slowly, as the roux will get incredibly hot, and you do not want to accidentally burn yourself.

When the roux is the color of milk chocolate, add the celery, shallot, garlic, and bell peppers to the pot. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add smoked paprika and mix into the roux, cooking for 30 seconds.

Add water, 1/2 cup at a time, and stir until water is incorporated. The roux will almost certainly break at some point, which is fine. Once you’ve added all the water, add beans, Worcestershire sauce, salt, bay leaf, oregano, thyme, and cayenne. Increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to maintain a vigorous boil and cook for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 90 minutes, adjusting heat as needed to maintain a vigorous simmer.

After 90 minutes, check beans for doneness. If the beans are still hard, cover and continue to simmer, checking on beans every 15 minutes. If the beans are soft, add red wine and Tabasco, if using, and simmer lightly for 20 minutes (now would be a good time to start a pot of white rice). Taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary. Remove beans from heat , stir in chopped parsley and scallions, and let rest for at least 5 minutes.

Serve immediately with white rice, or let cool completely and store in the fridge – the beans will improve after a day or two, though you might need to add a little water when reheating to loosen them up.