Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Taste of New Orleans

I just got back from a great trip to New Orleans and jumped right in to try to make a Cajun favorite, Red Beans and Rice, with a healthier twist. I will caution you that this is probably not the lowest sodium dish you could choose to make, however, I have attempted to cut as much as possible.

First, I had to figure out the correct ingredients, and then I needed to locate them. After researching Red Beans and Rice on the internet, I worked out a few basics. I'd start with onion, celery and garlic to form a base, and use turkey kielbasa for the sausage. I knew I'd seen some turkey kielbasa recently in Trader Joe's and I also saw some in Harris Teeter. I ended up finding the beans at my local organic market - cans of Eden organic no salt added "small red beans." I decided to use canned because I wanted to simplify. I also found beans labelled "light kidney beans" and these would work fine too. I did not have to purchase the Cajun seasoning as I already have a mix that I make up in bulk to use when I make jambalaya. I'd be happy to provide that if anyone has trouble finding a low sodium seasoning mix. Check in the spice section of your grocery store. If you find a no or low sodium version, try that and you can always add a little salt to it if you're not too restricted.

The active time preparing this dish is pretty minimal. There's not much more to do than cut up the sausage and vegetables, and open a few cans. I had only planned to simmer for about 30 minutes, but dinner got pushed back. I ended up letting it simmer for closer to an hour, though, so it got nice and thick. I'm recommending 45 minutes, but if you have less time, 30 minutes would probably also do it.

I served it over brown rice instead of white, and with a mix of sauteed kale and spinach on the side. Pretty delicious and full of healthy protein and fiber.

Cajun Style Red Beans and Rice

(serves 4 or 5, maybe more if you don't have a teenaged boy)

1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound smoked turkey kielbasa (look for one that is not too high in sodium), cut into about 1/2 inch to 1 inch chunks

1 onion, diced

1 stalk celery, diced

2 fat cloves garlic (use more if they're small), diced

1 - 2 teaspoons Cajun spice mix, depending on your taste

1 cup low or no sodium chicken broth

1/2 bottle beer, a little more is OK too

3 cans no salt added small red beans or light kidney beans

3 bay leaves

1. Place large pot or Dutch oven over medium to medium-high heat. Add one tablespoon of the olive oil, or enough to lightly coat the bottom of the pan.

2. Add the pieces of kielbasa and let them brown on all sides.

3. Once browned, remove the kielbasa from the pot to a bowl or plate and set aside.

4. Lower heat to medium. If pot seems dry, add another tablespoon of olive oil.

5. Saute onion, celery and garlic, stirring frequently, until onion becomes translucent, about 5 - 6 minutes.

6. Add the Cajun spice mix and stir thoroughly into vegetables. Continue to saute for another minute or two.

7. Put the kielbasa chunks back into the pot, add the stock, beer, beans and bay leaves. Raise heat and bring to a boil. Immediately lower heat to low, cover pot, and let simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. After about 40 minutes, use the back of the spoon to crush some of the beans to thicken the sauce.

8. Taste for salt - I did not add any as the sausage is salty enough and my Cajun blend has some salt in it.

9. Remove the bay leaves and serve with brown rice.

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