This week, I had the honor of interviewing my long time friend, Lisa Brown Castaneda on my radio program. She shared a special recipe that was passed down by to her by her beloved friend Barbara. In true “Bean Queen” style, she tweaked it just a little to make it all her own. Hear Lisa tell the beautiful backstory to this recipe and detailed description of how she makes this soulful dish…secret ingredient: lots of love.
LISTEN to the full show here: The Dish with Nancy Newcomer
Barbara’s Red Beans
Prepared by Lisa Brown Castañeda
2 T of olive oil
1 package Smoked Pork Shanks (Cooks is the brand I prefer) If you don’t eat pork I have also used Smoked Turkey Legs and wings
1 medium onion diced – yellow or white
2-3 cloves of garlic diced
3 celery sticks – diced
1 green bell pepper diced
1 red bell pepper diced (the red bell is optional – I like it for the color)
1 package of dried Light Red Kidney beans, 6-8 cups
(you can use red beans or any kind of bean you like) Wash and sort thru and remove any bad beans or rocks
2-3 Bay leaves
After years of preparing these beans I have gotten this recipe to a place of consistency. I prefer to cook my shanks in a pressure cooker first. If you don’t have a pressure cooker you can cook them in a regular pot. I prefer the pressure cooker because of the speed and intensity I get. Whatever vessel you choose, place the shanks in the pot, cover them with water approx. 6-8 cups. I also throw in an onion that I quartered, a couple sticks of celery, and a couple cloves of garlic. We are making the stock for the beans so we need to flavor this water. I also add a small amount of salt – be careful because the smoked meat already has salt. And of course generous pepper. I then put the pot on the stove and cook away. In a pressure cooker it takes about 45 minutes. You want the meat to be partially falling off the bone. I would think double the time in a regular pot. Don’t have it on a high boil, just a gentle rolling boil. Check the meat for tenderness and remove from stove. Pull out the shanks and place in a separate bowl and then pour the broth thru a strainer into another bowl.
Now it’s time to put them all together. In a large stock combine the olive oil and bring up to heat then drop in the diced onion and garlic and begin to sauté and sweat. After 2-3 minutes drop in the celery and do the same. Continue to sauté for another 2 minutes. Lastly drop in the bell peppers and sauté everything together to combine all the flavors. Now it’s time to add the beans, so just throw them in the pot after they had been rinsed. Then add all the shanks. Now you can see how much you have in the pot. Lastly you take that precious broth you created when you pre-cooked those shanks and pour it into a measuring cup so that you know how much liquid you are adding. On the back of a package of beans it generally says 6-8 cups. I have learned over the years it’s always easier to add liquid than to remove it. You want just enough to cover all the ingredients adequately. Once everything is snuggled nicely into the pot and covered with broth you top it all off with the final addition of about 2-3 bayleaf. I love what a bayleaf does to these beans. So simple and pure but I have left it out before accidentally and I was heartbroken with my final product……..a jacked up pot of beans!
Now is when you exercise patience and love and let those beauties cohabitate in that pot and become one big pot of silky luxurious beans. I still remember the first time that Barbara made these for me and I didn’t understand the big deal…….a bag of beans, Big Deal. Then she dished them up for me and poured the beans over a bed of white rice. Then she offered a little hot sauce. I sat there and ate until my eyes hurt I was so full. Barbara didn’t cook her shanks separately and then put it together like I do – she did hers all at once. My problem would be that my shanks wouldn’t be cooked and then the beans would be overdone. Cooking them separately and then putting it together seems to be a safer method for me. For beginners in the bean department this is often a common problem. When testing your beans for doneness, you want them slightly firm but not mushy. Also, I learned that you need to taste 5 beans. If all five are done, the beans are done.
As I write this recipe out it reminds me of all the wonderful times I spent with Barbara learning to cook dishes from her Creole/Louisiana background. Growing up my mom, Phyllis, taught me all the Portuguese and German cooking but this food was different and it interested me. I am grateful forever for those treasured times cooking with Barbara. Although she is no longer with us she would be over the moon to know that I shared this recipe. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I do…….it has a lot of history and very fond memories.