In his 1993 book “Fork in the Road,” chef Paul Prudhomme writes that red beans and rice was traditional in old New Orleans on Mondays for one simple reason: “Monday used to be wash day, and the story goes that the beans could simmer while the laundry was being done. When the wash was finished, so were the beans.”
Well, laundry doesn’t take nearly as long as it used to, and red beans and rice doesn’t have to, either. Traditionally, the beans cook for many hours, so long that the line between beans and sauce dissolves into nothingness, and that’s certainly a big part of their appeal. I’ve been speeding them up for years, mainly by starting with something I almost always have in the fridge or freezer: already-cooked beans, stored in their liquid. These don’t end up quite as creamy-rich as the day-long version, but they’re packed with flavor.
That’s one tradition busted. Another one: I use Spanish smoked paprika to fill the role that andouille and/or other smoky meats used to play. And then recently I came up with the biggest twist of all, employing cauliflower in place of the rice. It’s not a paleo-diet move, I swear; I’m as much of a carb hound as anyone. But with a head of cauliflower on hand that wasn’t getting any fresher, I had to give it a try, especially because I’ve long complained about vegetarian dishes that don’t seem to include (let alone celebrate) many vegetables.
It’s a lighter take on one of my favorite Southern dishes, but if you don’t want to go quite this light, you can always dial back one of my twists and serve the beans over good, old-fashioned white rice instead. I’m sure Prudhomme would approve.