In Louisiana and the Gulf Coast region, red beans and rice is as popular as gumbo. The biggest issue when people discuss red beans? Thick versus soupy: I am on the side of thick. Then there is the question of the smoky flavor, another point of division: I like smoky, and use both heavily smoked Andouille sausage and smoked ham hocks.

Serves 8

    • 1 pound dry red kidney beans (preferably Camellia brand)
    • 1 large onion, chopped
    • 1 bell pepper, chopped
    • 5 stalks celery, chopped
    • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
    • 2 large smoked ham hocks (have the butcher cut them into 1-inch rounds)
    • 1 ½ pounds smoked Andouille sausage, diced in 1-inch pieces
    • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crushed
    • 2 teaspoons dry basil leaves
    • 1 or 2 bay leaves (remove after your beans are cooked)
    • salt and pepper, or cajun seasoning, to taste

Soak the beans overnight, if possible. The next day, drain and put fresh water in the pot. Bring the beans to a rolling boil, making sure the beans are always covered by water, or they will discolor and get hard. Boil the beans for about 45 to 60 minutes, until the beans are tender but not falling apart. Drain.

While the beans are boiling, sauté the onions, celery, bell pepper until the onions are slightly browned. Add the garlic and stir for one more minute. After the beans are boiled and drained, add the sautéed vegetables to the beans, then add the ham hocks, smoked sausage, seasonings, and just enough water to cover.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Cook for close to three hours, adjusting the seasonings as you go along. Stir occasionally, making sure that it doesn't burn or stick to the bottom of the pot. If it does, just be sure to change pots.

Serve a generous amount over white long-grain rice.

To read Regina Charboneau's post on southern-style food for Mardi Gras and the Super Bowl, click here for the story.