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Healthful twist to red beans, rice

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CONCORD, N.H. — Speed wouldn't be enough.

When I decided to tinker with recipes for red beans and rice — a staple of Louisiana cuisine — I was appalled by some of the traditional ingredients. Salt pork, bacon, sausage and white rice? Sounds delicious. Also sounds like a health hazard.

But I was convinced this simple, intensely flavored dish could be more than just an occasional indulgence. With the right tweaks, red beans and rice could be a healthful and speedy weeknight staple.

I started with the rice. Long grain white is the norm, but swapping it with brown was an easy way to pack in whole grains. Some people object to the assertive flavor of brown rice, but no one will notice it in this highly-seasoned dish.

The bacon was a keeper (though I used less than many recipes call for), as this not only adds key flavors but provides the fat in which the onion, peppers, garlic and spices are sauteed.

As for the sausage, I went with precooked turkey sausage, which has little of the fat in traditional pork sausages and is offered in a variety of flavors. And buying precooked (most turkey and chicken sausage is) saves cooking time.

A thick, starchy sauce is essential. Letting the beans and rice simmer slowly usually produces this. To get the same effect, I cooked the rice in too much water. This provides starchy water that, combined with liquid from the canned beans, creates a perfect sauce.

Technique was simple. While the rice cooked in a saucepan, I sauteed the remaining ingredients in a large skillet. Once the rice was finished, I combined the two and let them simmer another 5 minutes to blend the flavors.

The result was a 35-minute meal that packs lean protein, whole grains and good veggies into one dish.


(Start to finish 35 minutes)

1 cup long grain brown rice

2 1/2 cups hot water


6 slices bacon, cut into inch-long pieces

1 bay leaf

1 medium yellow onion, diced

1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 teaspoon (more or less to taste) cayenne powder

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/4 teaspoon dry oregano

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

12-ounce package cooked chicken or turkey sausages (such as sweet Italian)

15-ounce can kidney beans

In a small saucepan, combine the rice, water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce to a simmer and cook 25 minutes.

After the rice has cooked for 15 minutes, heat a large skillet over a medium-high heat. Add the bacon and bay leaf and cook until the bacon begins to shrivel and the fat melts, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the onion, green and red bell peppers, garlic, cayenne powder, cumin, oregano, pepper and paprika. Saute, stirring often, until the onions are just tender, about 4 minutes. Add the sausage and saute another 2 minutes.

Drain about half the liquid from the can of beans, then add the beans and remaining liquid to the skillet. Add the rice and any remaining water in the pan. Mix well, cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook another 5 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.