Are you Cajun or Creole? "The Cajuns are descendents of the Acadians from Nova Scotia," explains John Sowa, chef and owner of Lil' Bayou restaurant in Seaside. "The Creole culture began in New Orleans and is a mixture of French, Spanish, Italian, American Indian, African and other ethic groups. Put them both together and you have fine Louisiana cooking."

At this time of crisis in New Orleans, Sowa says he is dedicated to educating people in the Pacific Northwest about Louisiana and its cuisine.

Red beans and rice were traditionally served on Monday - washday. The lady of the house could place a pot of beans on the stove and slow cook them all day as she tended to the weekly laundry. By the end of the day, both the cleaning and dinner were finished.

Red Beans and Rice

1 lb. dry red kidney beans

1 large onion

1 bell pepper, chopped

5 ribs celery, chopped

4 to 5 cloves garlic, chopped

1/4 lb. bacon, cut into 1-inch slices

1 large smoked ham hock

1 to 11/2 lbs. mild or hot smoked sausage, andouille preferred

1 tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed

1 to 2 bay leaves

Tabasco to taste

Few dashes Worchestershire sauce

Cajun seasoning to taste

Soak beans overnight. Next day, drain and put fresh water in the pot. Bring beans to a rolling boil. Make sure beans are always covered by water. Boil beans for 45 to 60 minutes, until tender but not falling apart. Drain. While beans are boiling, saute bacon. Add onions and peppers until translucent. Add garlic and saute a few minutes longer. Put beans back into pot; add ham hock, sausage, sauteed vegetables, seasoning, Tabasco, Worchestershire sauce and enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for three hours, until nice and creamy. Adjust seasoning to taste. Stir, making sure that it doesn't stick to bottom of pot. Ladle over hot white long grain rice. "It don't get no better!" Sowa claims.

If you can, let beans cool, put in the fridge, and reheat the next day. They'll taste even better.

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