It is a rare and beautiful thing when two of my favorite things — film & food — come together.  The other night I attended a screening of films by legendary documentary film maker Les Blank accompanied by smell-around.  The films were The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1969) and Always a Pleasure (1978).  The second film, Always a Pleasure, was about street celebrations in New Orleans and featured some great scenes which included red beans and rice.  To enhance the experience, the powers that be at the Red Vic and their honored guest, Les Blank, decided to waft the smell of red beans around the theater during the appropriate scenes and then serve them with rice after the film.  My friend, Betsy, enlisted me to help prepare the beans based on a recipe given to her from Les Blank.

Betsy created an inviting tablescape of beans, veggies and spices.

And,  procured the secret weapon — smoked ham hocks.  These are the food of the Gods.  I swear these beauties could make wet newspapers taste good.

We minced the garlic, onion, and celery in the food processor and chopped the green peppers.  Mr. Blank is well known for his film, Garlic is as Good as Ten Mothers, and the man is not afraid of garlic.  This recipe calls for a head of garlic for a pound of beans.  We placed the pre-soaked beans in a pot with the ham hock and water and let it simmer for an hour.  After about 1 hour of simmering, we added the veggies and a tablespoon of cayenne pepper.  The beans softened after about 1 1/2 hours.  They simmered on the stove for most of the day to meld the flavors and allow the meat on the ham hock to slowly cook to perfection and fall off the bone. At the event, Les Blank explained that these beans were traditionally made on Monday while the women did the washing.  They were placed on the stove and left all day to cook.  Think of this dish as something that you start in the morning and leave to cook until dinner.  If you have a slow cooker, you can safely leave the beans cooking all day while you go about your business.  We multiplied the recipe by 5 to make it for the event.  You can easily increase the recipe based on how many people you are feeding.  This truly is the ultimate party food — you can easily make a ton of it and it tastes great with beer.

At the event, we heated the beans in some slow cookers.  In the second film, Always a Pleasure, there is a scene where a group of people prepare red beans and rice for Mardi Gras.  When the scene came on, we carried the beans through the theater in bowls and wafted the smell around using cardboard.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of this because I was carrying a bowl of beans with one hand and wafting the scent around with a piece of cardboard in my other hand.  The Edamamemonster is not a many-armed Hindu Goddess so I don’t have a photo but I can say it was a lot of fun and the smell was amazing.  I did manage to get this photo of Les Blank taking questions from the audience.

At the end, we served the beans over steamed basmati rice with a bit of sliced green onion.  Magnolia Brewpub, down the street from the theater, kindly donated a keg of their beer and it went perfectly with the beans and rice.  I’m so hooked on this recipe that as I am writing this I have some cooking in my slow cooker.

Red Beans & Rice

Adapted from Les Blank’s recipe


1 pound of dried red beans, soaked overnight

1 onion, minced

1 head of garlic, peeled and minced

1 stick of celery, minced

2 green bell peppers, chopped

1 – 1/2 pounds of smoked ham hock

1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper

A few pieces of green onion, chopped (for garnish)


Steamed rice for serving

1.  Add the pre-soaked beans, 7 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of salt, and the ham hock to a large pot.  Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer.  Cook for about 1 hour.

2.  Add the vegetables and cayenne and allow to cook for many hours until the beans have absorbed most of the water and the meat has fallen off the bone.

3.  Serve over steamed rice.  Sprinkle some sliced green onion on top.

If you ever have 5 heads of garlic to peel — the Edamamemonster is your girl.  She has a strong little arm and enjoys pounding with a cup measure.