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Red Beans and Ricely Yours

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Red Beans and Ricely Yours
Written by Emily Storrow | Photos by Rush Jagoe

Red Beans and Rice

[red bēns ən(d) rīs]

n: A New Orleans staple traditionally eaten on Mondays

 

John Besh

Mondays in New Orleans mean red beans and rice. The basic and beloved dish transcends age, class, and race as the choice meal to begin the week in the Crescent City. Local lore says the ritual dates back to the days before washing machines, when women spent Mondays doing laundry. With little time left to prepare dinner, they turned to a meal that could practically cook itself. But it’s not clear just how the dish made its way to the city. Pairing rice with stew-like beans may have come from Africa via the slave trade, or with those fleeing the Haitian slave revolution from 1791 to 1804.For native son John Besh, red beans and rice tastes like home. Growing up in South Louisiana, his family ate the staple every Monday “like clockwork.” In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Besh wanted to give survivors a taste of that comfort. Serving from ice chests in flat-bottom boats, he helped feed a city on its knees. “Though the first fellow argued with me that the red beans weren’t good because they didn’t have ham hocks,” Besh laughs. “I had to explain that this was a natural disaster and we were doing the best with what we had.”

When it comes to his recipe, Besh again looks homeward. “Every good cook should be inspired by their mother’s cooking,” he says. “I loved the way mom cooked hers, and that’s the way I cook them today.”