Every Christmas Eve my dad’s side of the family gets together for Wigilia, Christmas Eve Polish vigil dinner. Just to give you a visual, it’s about 40-50 people across several generations. Before the dinner, an elderly family member offers a blessing, and each person receives a thin wafer, “oplatek.” After the blessing, people exchange good wishes with one another and give and receive pieces of each other’s oplatek. Then we feast! The buffet represents various casseroles, salads, fish, and plenty of pierogi and kapusta soup, all homemade. Although the significance of this event is no longer religious for me, I love reconnecting with family members and taking pause to appreciate one another during this time.
Due to logistics, Marcus and I are spending this Christmas Eve in Eugene, just the two of us. But we’re not feeling blue. We’re putting a Southern spin on Wigilia over here by making red beans and rice. It’s not supposed to be a new tradition, but who knows, maybe it’s the beginning of one. Marcus and I have been sharing bowls of red beans ever since we met in New Orleans, and we make it at least a couple times a month. It’s such a comforting, warming meal. Here’s how I like to make it. Marcus says it makes me a “certified Cajun woman,” which means something coming from a Cajun man.
Vegetarian Red Beans and Rice
small kidney beans – 2 cups dry (makes 5 cups cooked)
green bell peppers – 2
celery – 2 stalks
yellow onion – 1 large
cajun seasoning – 1 tbsp (Tony’s or Slap Ya Mama or make your own!)
garlic – 2 cloves
bay leaf – 1
oil or ghee – 1 tbsp
veggie broth – 4 cups
tabasco sauce – 1 tsp
salt – ½ tsp
1. Soak the beans overnight and cook the next day. Optional: add 1 tbsp of salt to the pot and let the beans soak the salt in for at least 15 minutes. Drain and run under the water to wash out excess salt. Store in the fridge until later.
2. Chop the onions, celery, and the bell peppers. Mince the garlic.
3. Melt oil or ghee in a pot over medium heat until it shimmers, then add the veggies and garlic, turn heat to medium-low and cook for about ten minutes or until onions are translucent.
4. Add the veggie broth, the bay leaf, the beans, and the Cajun seasoning. Cover the pot and bring to a boil, then simmer for 30 minutes.
5. Add tabasco sauce and the salt. Take out bay leaf. With a potato masher, carefully mash the beans so that they get a creamy consistency.
6. Serve over rice and eat!
These beans have a moderate spice level. Keep the tabasco sauce on hand for pouring extra in your bowl.