In almost every US home, you can find 1 or 2 packages of rice in their pantries. This is a staple commonly used in most meals, because of its mild flavor, easy cooking, and affordability. It is easy to prepare a delicious rice meal in a short time and even create more elaborate dishes including it as the main ingredient.
Since its domestication, its use is widely spread all over the United States. Rice arrived in the region, specifically in the South, by enslaved Africans who brought with them grains to be planted and the proper cultivation techniques. They taught Americans how to prepare the soil, and build irrigation systems.
Since then, rice became an important crop in the Southern States making the process of cultivation more technological. South Carolina is the main rice producer, supplying 90% of internal consumption, and even placed the United States as one of the most important rice producers in the world.
Southern States Cuisine’s origins
Southern states comprise 17 states, from Texas up to West Virginia.
This amount of regions only indicates the various dishes Southern cuisine is made from. Gastronomy in the South is very diverse formed by the influences of Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans.
Native Americans (Cherokees, Chickasaws, Seminole, and Choctaw) cultivated tomatoes, squash, yams, and corn. They also cooked turkeys and squirrels.
Europeans brought with them flour, milk, sugar, eggs, various vegetables, cattle, and pigs. For the African part, they introduced rice, okra, black-eyed peas, eggplant, sorghum, fruits, spices, and herbs.
The combination of all these components, along with their cooking techniques, created what is known today as Southern cuisine. A way of making a distinction among all cooking styles presented in the region, you can see these cuisine styles grouped in the following categories:
- Low Country.
- Soul Food.
Use of rice in Southern cooking
As rice was first introduced to the US by the South, most of their dishes included it in their typical meals. Every cooking style includes this humble grain in various preparations. Most iconic rice dishes include:
- Gumbo: A bowl of shrimp, chicken, sausage gumbo, okra, cooked in flavored broth served with rice.
- Jambalaya: Dish made from meat (pork, chicken, or rabbit), seafood, vegetables, stock, rice, and strong seasonings.
- Country Captain: Curried chicken fried in butter and stewed in the oven with tomatoes and served over white rice.
- Hoppin’ John: Bowl of black-eyed peas, rice, collard greens, cornbread, and bacon or ham
- Gullah Red Rice: One-pot dish with rice, tomato, sugar, and smoked pork sausage.
Preparing true Southern dishes
Among all the varied cooking styles in Southern cuisine, perhaps one of the most popular is Cajun cuisine. It is recognized for its strong flavor, spicy taste, rustic and colorful presentation.
When referring to Cajun cuisine, lots of red beans and rice recipes like jambalaya or gumbo come to your mind. Let’s try one of them and enjoy at home a typical flavorsome Southern meal.
Cajun-style red beans and rice
Ingredients (4 servings):
- ½ pound dry kidney beans.
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
- ½ chopped onion.
- ½ chopped green bell pepper.
- 1 chopped stalk of celery.
- 1 tablespoon of minced cloves of garlic.
- 3 cups of chicken broth.
- 1 bay leaves.
- ½ tablespoon of dried parsley.
- ½ teaspoon of dried thyme.
- ½ teaspoon of Cajun seasoning.
- ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper.
- ⅛ teaspoon of dried sage.
- ½ pound of sliced andouille sausage.
- 2 cups of water.
- 1 cup of long-grain white rice.
- Salt and pepper to taste.
- Chopped parsley for garnish.
- Soak kidney beans overnight with enough water.
- In a skillet pour olive oil and heat at medium temperature. Add onion, green bell pepper, celery, and garlic. Sauté for 5 minutes. Set aside.
- Drain kidney beans and rinse them. In a big saucepan, pour chicken broth, kidney beans, previously cooked vegetables, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, Cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, sage, salt, and pepper.
- Cook until boiling, and then lower heat to minimum. Cook for 2 hours until the beans become tender.
- Incorporate andouille sausage and cook for 30 more minutes.
- In another saucepan, prepare rice by placing the rice with the water.
- Serve beans over rice.
- Garnish with chopped parsley.