It is no secret that I love beans. Beans are nearly a perfect food—full of protein, fiber, and nutrients. Plus, they are incredibly tasty, readily available, and one of the most affordable forms of protein around. You can easily feed a family on $1 worth of beans. Try doing that with meat!
Beans and spicy flavor are a match made in heaven. Many of the biggest bean-loving cultures have cuisines that use robust and bold flavors. And of these bold-flavored dishes, one of my favorites is red beans and rice.
I can’t (even a little) claim to be a Louisiana culture expert, but I do know that what we called “red beans and rice” growing up here in rural Indiana was decidedly not the same stuff you get in Creole country. It was more like a red bean and sausage casserole—delicious, but not the real deal.
My first experience with the spicy, beautifully simple flavors of a more authentic red beans and rice was when a Cajun/Creole restaurant opened up in my college town. It was love at first bite! And that restaurant is what I miss most about my college years, even more so than really good delivery pizza!
The recipe I’m sharing today is a more authentic take on red beans and rice than what I grew up with (although still not completely, because, a: I made it plant-based and it’s typically…um…not and b: hello, as a born and raised Indiana girl, I don’t have the cultural heritage to make it authentic).
How do you get that traditional beans and rice flavor if this is vegan?
Smoked meat (like say, a ham hock leftover from a ham dinner the day before) is a staple of the smoky flavor of traditional red beans and rice. To get that smoky flavor without the meat, I stuck to a genius suggestion from Susan over at Fat Free Vegan Kitchen—use chipotles in adobo sauce.
Chipotles in adobo add a great spicy kick and a ton of smoky flavor that really makes this dish taste hearty and meaty without any animal products. It’s pretty easy to track down chipotles in adobo in most supermarkets nowadays—just check the international foods section. A little goes a long way, and for this recipe, we’ll just use a little from the can—I like to freeze extra peppers (in their sauce) in ice cube trays for future uses.
How do I know when my red beans are done?
Even if there are some non-traditional elements of this recipe, the texture is spot on. If anything, this dish is more like a bean sauce with rice—which is exactly how red beans and rice are supposed to be.
You want to cook the dickens out of those beans until the line between bean and sauce is so fuzzy that you’ve got a big ole pot of creamy, thick, stick-to-your-ribs-y goodness.
How do I make vegan red beans and rice in the slow cooker?
When I originally posted this recipe back in 2011, I recommended folks do it in the slow cooker. That’s still a fine method (and I give you instructions on how to do it in the recipe notes), with one important adjustment I neglected to include originally: you must boil your dried kidney beans vigorously on the stove for 10 minutes. This will subsequently kill a toxin (phytohaemagglutinin, AKA: kidney bean lectin) in dry kidney beans that causes some folks digestive issues. Most slow cookers do not get to a high enough temperature to kill the toxin.
If you’re sensitive, as few as four undercooked kidney beans can make you feel ill. Some folks (like me) don’t have any issues with the toxin, but others do, so, in my opinion, it isn’t worth the risk to save 10 minutes. Boil those beans! Enjoy.