Tomorrow marks Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, a traditional day of frenzied indulgence before the fasting season of Lent. Millions of households around the country observe Lent every year, abstaining from meats, treats and other luxury items in a gesture of self-denial that goes back millennia.
And what better way to prepare for tomorrow’s bacchanalia than by participating in another global ritual: Meatless Monday. In the spirit of New Orleans, the epicenter of Mardi Gras festivities in the U.S., we are offering Meatless Monday fans everywhere a vegetarian version of the classic red beans and rice, a favored NOLA meal. Red beans and rice has been a staple of Louisiana Creole cuisine for more than a century; New Orleans native Louis Armstrong was reportedly so taken with it that he would sign letters “Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Louis Armstrong.”
Like much of New Orleans culture, the dish evolved out of various influences. When sugar planters fled to New Orleans during the Haitian revolution, they brought with them red beans from the Caribbean. New recipes developed in the kitchens of the French Quarter, combining the beans with common Creole spices like cayenne pepper and thyme. Over time the dish became associated with Monday, historically a washday in New Orleans. Women of the house would put a pot of beans on the stove to simmer while they attended their clothes. The beans would cook all day, slowly absorbing whatever flavors were added to the pot.
Many neighborhood restaurants still serve red beans and rice as a Monday special, and it remains as popular as ever in private homes. The dish often incorporates meats such as ham and sausage, but a vegetarian version offers more than enough flavor. For maximum enjoyment, pair with colorful beads and a Creole drawl.