Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Cajun Risotto

My last post was not wrong - the risotto bug has bitten and is apparently here to stay. Not two days after I finished up the last of the arugula risotto did I go brainstorming for another excuse to make more creamy rice comfort food. However, I wanted something a little more savory than the last time around.

In addition to being just plain delicious, red beans and rice has quite a nostalgia factor for me. Growing up, the one time every year we could count on getting Popeye's Chicken (and a giant tub of red beans and rice on the side) was the annual summer visit to my grandparents house in southern Illinois. There is a water park right on the IL/MO border that we'd take a day trip to and on the way back to their house after a day full of sun and water slides, we'd pick up dinner at Popeyes. The food was always great, but the most memorable part was watching my (depression-baby) grandfather clean chicken bones like they were the last thing he'd eat. It's turned into a little bit of a sport over the years between my sisters and I - who can clean their chicken bones like Pa? This annual summer feast was my first introduction to Cajun food. 

Of all the Cajun dishes I've tried, both as a diner and as a cook, red beans and rice is one of my favorites. The only catch? To really do it well so that the beans are cooked perfectly but the rice isn't soggy, it takes a slow pace and a lot of pots. Think of this as red beans and rice in a hurry. It's a bit more melded than the original version tends to be and it ends up being a bit soupier, which I happened to absolutely love. It also has more veggies than you'll find in many red beans and rice interpretations (especailly Popeye's... though love, guys). Best of all, this dish is very, very easy to make as a vegetarian dish and add meat in separately for anyone who wants it. If keeping the dish vegetarian is no concern, feel free to add in the sausage at the beginning and substitute chicken broth for vegetable broth.

One batch of this will serve four generously and works especially well even it's the only thing you're serving for dinner. That doesn't mean you can't include some fried chicken if you're so inclined... 

Cajun Risotto
35 minutes
Serves 4 generously
Spoonful of Something Original

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • ½ large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can red beans, drained
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
  • ½ cup white wine
  • 4-5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1-2 Tbsp. Cajun seasoning
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 8 oz. Andouille sausage (optional – see tips and tricks)

1.   In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat.
2.   Sautee onion and garlic for about 3 minutes, or until the onion starts to become translucent.
3.   Add in the celery and allow to cook for an additional 5 minutes.
4.   Stir in the red pepper and beans and allow to cook for an additional 2 minutes.
5.    Add in the rice and stir to combine all the ingredients. Allow the rice to cook without liquid for 2 minutes.
6.   Add in the white wine, stir to combine and continue stirring occasionally until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
7.   Add ½ cup vegetable broth, stirring occasionally. Stir in the Cajun seasoning and salt and pepper.
8.   Continue to add the broth each time the moisture is mostly absorbed, but before the rice dries out, ½ cup at a time. Repeat this step until the rice is tender.

Tips and Tricks:
  1. You may not use all 5 cups of vegetable broth and that’s ok! Adding the liquid ½ cup at a time ensures you won’t dry out your rice (provided you’re stirring and paying attention) and you won’t overcook your dish (provided you occasionally stop to taste and check for doneness).
  2. Depending on what kind of Cajun seasoning you use, you may want more or less added salt in your version. To make sure you don’t oversalt, start with less than the recipe calls for, taste and continue to add until it tastes right to you.
  3. If you want to add meat, you can add uncooked Andouille sausage at step 2. Cook it for a few minutes by itself before adding in the onion and garlic. If you’re working with pre-cooked sausage, you can add it to the entire pot as you add the last 2 cups of broth, or top individual services with meat to keep the main dish vegetarian.

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