Growing up in Los Angeles, much of what I ate for dinner was a mishmash of different cultures. On Tuesday night, gringo-style tacos with cumin-flavored ground beef and chunky stripes of sharp cheddar cheese graced our tables. Friday evenings? Well, that reliably meant that some kind of fried fish was on the menu. Sunday nights have always been stirring Southern classics like smothered pork chops, cider-braised collard greens and sticky macaroni and cheese.
These Southern foods dated back to Ringgold, Louisiana, the small town where my great-grandparents lived with their children. In the early 1940s, they fled the state as part of the Great Migration, which saw an estimated 6 million African Americans leave the South to seek refuge from racial terror. After reaching Los Angeles, my family moved to what was then farmland in Compton.
As a child, it was not unusual for me to visit my great-grandparents for a feast and have enchiladas served with a steaming plate of okra, or enchiladas loaded with chili alongside a platter of crispy fried chicken. The memory of those feasts followed me as I left the west coast to head south: much of the food I created in my own kitchen was a profound reflection of everything I have. ate while growing up. Today, I still can’t help but cook dishes that incorporate both the southern cuisine that is the foundation of my palate and the Mexican flavors that I grew up in.
Inspired by those Mexican flavors, this kidney bean and rice recipe marries two of my favorite cooking experiences from my childhood. Instead of the usual andouille, I chose to incorporate Mexican chorizo. Unlike Cajun meat, chorizo is a fresh sausage that gets its smoky flavor from the addition of brick-colored paprika. I also replaced the poblano peppers with green pepper, which is a sacred part of the Holy Trinity. Here, the poblanos help boost the already smoky flavor of the chorizo and add a bit of spice that really complements the flavors.
I love to eat it plain, in the form of a few ladles of beans served over long grain rice with a dash of hot sauce. Every spoonful reminds me of my home and how lucky I was to grow up discovering the flavors of two rich culinary cultures.
Red Beans and Chorizo Rice
For 6 to 8 people
1 pound of kidney beans
1 smoked ham shank (optional, but highly recommended)
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied with string or kitchen twine
3 bay leaves
8 cups of chicken broth
1 tbsp (plus plus) vegetable oil
1½ pound Mexican sausage cooked with chorizo (Cacique Mexican pork sausage is a great brand, but fresh chorizo from your local butcher will work well as well)
1½ onions, finely chopped (about 3 cups)
4 to 5 medium poblano peppers, chopped (about 2½ cups)
4 celery ribs, chopped (about 2 cups)
4 medium garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon Creole seasoning (I used Tony Chachere’s original Creole seasoning)
1 teaspoon ground chipotle
½ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper (and more, depending on your preference)
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
Freshly ground black pepper
Hot sauce, such as Crystal or Valentina, to taste
Cooked white rice, for serving
Step 1: In a large Dutch oven or stockpot, heat the water until it boils. Turn off the heat, add the beans and let soak for 2 to 4 hours. Drain and rinse.
2nd step: Return the beans to the pot. Add the ham shank, fresh thyme and bay leaves and cover with the chicken broth. Simmer over medium heat for about 1 hour 30 minutes.
Step 3: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt the chorizo with a little water. Let the water evaporate, turning the sausages occasionally. When finished cooking, remove the sausages and set aside for slicing later; leave the fat to melt in the pan.
Step 4: In the same pan, add the onion, poblano pepper, celery and garlic. Cook until the vegetables start to brown, about 7 minutes. Season with the spices, salt and pepper.
Step 5: Remove the ham shank from the pan and add the cooked vegetables to the beans. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, making sure to stir every 20 minutes or so until the beans are tender, about 1.5 to 2 hours.
Step 6: Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs from the pot. Season to taste with a few dashes of hot sauce and more salt and pepper if needed.
Step 7: To serve, pour the red beans over steamed white rice. Cut the chorizo into slices and place them on top.
Ryan shepard is an Atlanta-based food and spirits writer. She loves Mexican food, bourbon and New Orleans.
Louis Victa is a chef, recipe developer, food photographer and stylist living in Las Vegas.
Recipe tested by Louiie Victa