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Red Beans and Rice: Look out Popeye's!

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As some of you who read my blog regularly may know, I'm a big fan of Popeye's restaurant's red beans and rice. There is something about the creamy, smoky, spicy flavor that just hits the spot, and makes going into a fast-food place worth it every once in a while. But of course I'm also very into organic and healthy food, so I set out to find a recipe I could make at home with my own ingredients.

I found a surprising amount of activity online, with people claiming to have the "real" recipe. I even tried one that involved rendering the fat from a ham hock and adding it to a can of beans with a few other added spices. It was not good. So I gave up for a while.

Then the other day I woke up in the morning with a eureka moment of insight. What if I cook the beans with the ham hock? So I tried it and it was good. Very good! And simple. Oh so simple. It's the kind of thing I would make once a week for dinner, if all my kids would eat it. It was even the first time I successfully soaked beans overnight! I used red kidney beans, since I looked high and low for dried "red beans" and couldn't find them. I'm curious if the two are actually separate varieties (please let me know, if you know for sure!).

So here's my recipe:

Maria's Red Beans and Rice

Ingredients:

1 pound dried red kidney beans
Lots of water
1 organic smoky ham hock
Salt to taste
Brown rice
Butter
Cayenne pepper and olive oil (optional)

Directions:

1. Put the dried beans in a pot and cover liberally with water, and let them soak overnight.
A few hours before you're ready to eat, drain the beans and put them back in the pot with the ham hock and salt, and cover with new water.

2. Cook the beans and ham slowly and steadily for two to three hours. Mash up some of the beans with a potato masher or the back of a spoon.

3. Cook the brown rice with butter (use whatever amount you're comfortable with, but honestly, the more the better).

4. Layer the beans and rice in a bowl and enjoy!

If you prefer them spicy (which Popeyes' are), put some cayenne pepper powder in a small skillet (I prefer cast-iron) with a little olive oil and heat until it sizzles (don't let it burn). Pour over the rice and bean mixture to your desired hotability. Or just add your favorite hot sauce.

For more from Maria Rodale, go to Maria's Farm Country Kitchen.

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