Beans! That’s right. I stole the idea from New Orleans, a city I haven’t even visited, but which after a few hours of watching Food Network I felt like I had. It seems one of the traditions there is red beans and rice on Mondays. It is a custom held over from the time when ham was the Sunday meal, and Monday was when the women were busy scrubbing the clothes. They needed a meal plan that didn’t require much fuss, or so I heard on television.
Inspired by old-school Emeril Lagasse (who is from Massachusetts anyway), I made it on a whim one day after watching one of his shows. We’ve since cancelled cable, so I’ll need a new inspiration. At the time, I hadn’t ever even really soaked beans before. I was a little nervous at first as it all seemed a little too easy. As it turned out, I love red beans and rice. I love the taste. I love being able to add as much hot sauce as I want. Did I mention I love the ease of making them? I use the crock pot and as long as I remember to soak them the night before, it’s one of the simplest meals I make. We’ve gone through a few recipe iterations but I am pretty happy with the one we have now.
While I do love them, I know it’s not fair to serve it every week. The kids feel lukewarm about them at best. Jason, for his part, appeared at first to be quite fond of them, but sometimes it is hard to tell with him. In fact, one of his most charming characteristics is he will eat whatever I put in front of him, whether it’s burned or over-seasoned or just not his preference, with almost no outward reservations. He will clear his plate, and say “thank you that was good” even when it wasn’t every night almost without fail. Still, if I ask him directly, he will give me an honest assessment. It’s almost the best of both worlds.
Thus, we were into my third or fourth week of serving it before I noticed any issue. I mentioned to him that I thought Max was coming around, and asked what did he think of that night’s recipe. He replied he thought the recipe could be spicier and confessed that he knew I liked them but maybe he wasn’t the best one to judge since he wasn’t all that fond of them in general. What?!
This revelation lead me to scale back the frequency somewhat. I mean in return for the gratitude he shows me most nights, I am willing to make a few allowances even when I really love a dish. I started alternating some other bean dishes. We have homemade chili some Mondays and hoppin john made from black-eyed peas other days. We also have tried cuban style black beans with sweet potatoes, although that is another one that I’m a little more fond of than everyone else.
I think having a regular bean night cuts down on the complaints I might otherwise get as everyone knows what to expect. It’s also super budget friendly. A one pound bag of beans can be had for under $1. The pepper, onion and garlic are the most expensive part of the recipe (with how many recipes can you say that?), and it makes enough and keeps well enough that we can have it on Monday and again on Wednesday or Thursday if we like. Alternately I can eat on it for lunch several days in a row.
The frugality and quantity size are important because we have had somewhat of a perfect storm of events here lately conspiring to raise our food bill. For one, both kids have had growth spurts. At 9 ½, Max has crossed the five foot mark. I haven’t measured Claire lately but at four days shy of 8 it is safe to say she is not too far behind. They are both wearing size 14 in kid clothes and perhaps understandably have the appetites to match.
Also, food prices in general have gone up. While I tend to have a schadenfreuden reaction when I see news stories where shoppers complain about the skyrocketing cost of cow’s milk, milk replacements have never been cheap. While the price of soy milk thankfully seems to have been one of the few that has stayed close to constant, at $2.50 a half gallon it was never economical. To add to that, Max discovered recently that he actually prefers the taste of almond milk. While I still give him soy in his lunchbox, I think variety is good. Since he prefers the taste and they all have roughly the same amount of added calcium, I have started adding almond and coconut milk into the regular rotation. Unfortunately, the cost of one of those runs the same as a half gallon of the soy, which still is only a little less than the gallon of cow’s milk. Considering the budget only stretches so far, we’ve coped by adding a bean night and an omelet night (yay for outgrowing egg allergies) once a week.
While pretty much every day is laundry day around here (Did I mention growth spurts that make me reluctant to buy too many outfits in one size especially this close to the end of the school year?), I like that my menu plan has a cultural context even if it’s more personal to Food Network than me. Laissez les bons temps rouler! “Bam!”
Super Simple Red Beans and Rice
1 pound small red kidney beans
1 small onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
8 cups water
1 heaping tablespoon Cajun seasoning (or make your own blend)
1 tablespoon parsley
1 ham hock (optional)
Rinse beans and soak in a large pot overnight. Drain and rinse beans again. Place in crock pot with water, green pepper, onion, garlic, parsley, seasoning and optional ham hock. Cook on low for six to eight hours. Serve on a Monday with rice (I use half white, half brown), andouille sausage, greens and corn bread.