Celebrate Black History Month with this Mardi Gras Red Beans recipe
from a Game Changing New Orleans Chef
By James Watts, Jr, Weaver Street Head Merchandiser
You need calories to be successful at Mardi Gras! With much walking to see all the sights and cooler weather, you have to make sure that you are well fed when you leave the house or look for hearty fare from a trusted local restaurant. Dooky Chase was the destination restaurant for me when I lived in New Orleans, but you couldn’t get close during Mardi Gras! We need the same for socially distant hikes in the North Carolina winter, so I want to share a great red beans and rice recipe from Mrs. Leah Chase of Dooky Chase restaurant, my favorite New Orleans chef.
Affectionately called the Queen of Creole Cooking, Mrs. Leah Chase lived her life as a Game Changer! She and her musician husband, Edgar “Dooky” Chase II took over the family sandwich stand and turned it into a sit-down stand in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans during the 1950s. Leah updated the menu with cuisine from her Creole heritage and Dooky Chase became a destination for cuisine like Gumbo Z’ Herbes and Shrimp Clemenceau as well as fare like Fried Chicken and Red Beans & Rice.
Leah and Edgar were very involved in the civil rights movement. As the neighborhood gathering place, the Chases hosted voter registration drives, NAACP meetings, and civil rights icons including future New Orleans mayor Ernest “Dutch” Morial, A.P. Tureaud, and Martin Luther King Jr. The Freedom Riders and Dr. King strategized the Montgomery Bus Boycott from the upstairs dining room of Dooky Chase, building on the work of activists in Baton Rouge.
Mrs. Leah was also a great patron of artists in and around New Orleans, and the restaurant is an amazing gallery of African-American art, Mardi Gras Indian costumes, and photography cataloging the life of Black citizens of New Orleans: musicians, politicians, and folk from all walks of life. She sat on numerous boards including the Urban League of Greater New Orleans, Arts Council of New Orleans, and the Louisiana Children’s Museum. If you asked the wait staff about a particular painting or sculpture in the restaurant, it was quite likely that Mrs. Leah would come out in her red chef’s coat and teach you about the artist and the work.
Leah Chase’s food was (and is) transformational. Every dish that I ever ate there was perfectly balanced and had that little something extra that elevated the ingredients to the pinnacle of culinary perfections. She fed her patrons amazing meals whether they were presidents or grocery store clerks. She was awarded the James Beard Lifetime Achievement award in 2016, and was active in the kitchen at Dooky Chase well into her 90s. Mrs. Leah died on June 1, 2019 at the age of 96. I’m thankful for my tattered Dooky Chase cookbook, and I’m glad to share this recipe with you. It’s simple in its preparation and the perfect antidote for cold wet wintery days. My red beans don’t do Mrs. Leah justice because I don’t have her Dooky Chase magic, but they are very tasty and true to her recipe!
Mardi Gras Red Beans
- 1 pound red kidney beans
- 2 quarts water
- 1 large onion, chopped
- ¼ cup green bell pepper, chopped
- ¼ cup Riojana olive oil
- 1 pound ham, cubed (Beeler Ham or First Hand Foods when available)
- 1 pound smoked sausage, ½ slices (I use First Hand Food Andouille)
- 1 cup water
- 1 Tbsp garlic, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- 2 Tbsp sea salt
1). Dash beans well. Put in a 5 quart pot or Dutch oven with 2 quarts of water.
2). Add the onions and bring the pot to a boil.
3). Lower heat and cook for 1 hour, barely boiling. When the beans are soft, stir well and mash some beans to the side of the pot. This will help them to be creamy.
4). In separate frying pan, heat the olive oil and add the ham and sausage. Sauté for 5 minutes or so. Do not brown the meats so much as heat them through.
5). Deglaze the pan with cup of water, and pour all in the pot with the beans, the rest of the ingredients (seasonings) and simmer for at least 30 minutes.
They are ready when the beans are creamy and tender! Serve over the rice of your choice, and enjoy!
This dish serves a crowd as part of a larger meal or feeds a family of 4 generously with left overs.