thanksgiving leftovers “red beans” & coconut rice

thanksgiving leftover "red beans" & coconut rice | two red bowls

thanksgiving leftover "red beans" & coconut rice | two red bowls

I’m boring when it comes to leftovers. (Strategy: Remove from refrigerator and eat. Alternatively, freeze, forget about, then find three months later and still eat.) My mom, on the other hand, makes magic with them — I can’t remember a single time that she tossed out leftovers in our kitchen, or a time that we didn’t ask for the rest of our dinner to be packed up when we went out to eat. Instead, I can see her poised with an open clamshell container in one hand and a metal spatula in the other, mouth pursed, surveying her wok and trying to figure out how to upcycle last night’s takeout into inevitably more delicious fried rice, or stir-fried noodles, or a simmering pot of soup. Some of her recipes are ones where she even swears by leftovers, like her mapo tofu, which she won’t make unless she’s stir-fried giant prawns the day before and has the fiery-red broth left over. (Don’t tell her I gave away her secret ingredient.)

So it was my mama’s leftovers ingenuity, not mine, that saved these “red beans” (in quotes, because I’ve taken some serious liberties with this Louisiana classic) and turned them from something pretty tasty when made from scratch into, surprisingly, something way better when made from leftovers. They were originally inspired by Duck’s Eatery, a funky kind-of-Southern kind-of-Asian little nook of a restaurant that does a revelatory take on red beans and rice with tender, smoked lamb breast (!) instead of smoked sausage, and an ingenious, fragrant cilantro-coconut rice. I was all jazzed to try to make it, but every time I tried an all-lamb version at home I found it just a tad too, well, lamb-y, perhaps because it wasn’t smoked. So it got tinkered with, and pondered, then shelved, and almost scrapped. And then, on a whim, my mom’s penchant for leftovers and a little roast meat in our fridge straightened it all out — as it turns out, a combination of just part lamb, with its fairly dominant flavors, and leftover roast turkey, with its occasionally too passive flavors, is perfect.

So this version gets its backbone from Duck’s Eatery, but it comes in a homier, Thanksgiving leftovers-y package. The rice I could eat plain, with its interplay between bright cilantro and sweet coconut — it turns out flavorful and just a tad sticky from the coconut milk, a soothingly creamy accompaniment for the spicy, salty red beans. And the red beans themselves are cooked down with celery, bell peppers, and onions, a little bit of lamb (but not too much) for an earthy richness, equal parts turkey for hearty comfort, and plenty of Cajun seasonings and chili powder for heat. It’s a slow-simmering, mostly hands-off (and wholly non-traditional, I apologize to the whole of Cajun cuisine) way to transform turkey into something totally different, and it reminds me happily of what my mom used to do with leftovers all the time.

Speaking of my mama’s amazing cooking, we’re heading home tomorrow for a ton of it (after which there will be no leftovers, thanks to moi) and some cozy family time. Hope you have happy days ahead of you this week, too. And thank you for being here — I’m so thankful to have you. Happy early Thanksgiving to anyone celebrating!

thanksgiving leftover "red beans" & coconut rice | two red bowls

thanksgiving leftover "red beans" & coconut rice | two red bowls
thanksgiving leftover "red beans" & coconut rice | two red bowls

thanksgiving leftover "red beans" & coconut rice | two red bowls

thanksgiving leftover "red beans" & coconut rice | two red bowls

Thanksgiving leftover “red beans” & coconut rice

This is very loosely based on Louisiana red beans and rice, particularly a version I had at Duck's Eatery with smoked lamb breast and a fantastic coconut rice. We always have lamb and turkey on our Thanksgiving table, so this version morphed into the perfect opportunity to use up any leftovers from our table. It will work with all leftover turkey if that’s the main protein taking up real estate in your fridge, but I did like using about half of another kind of meat to add a bit of flavor and balance. I also think a good amount of smoked sausage would be perfect here to bring this closer to a traditional red beans and rice (or perhaps a drop or two of liquid smoke, if you have it!)


  • for the red beans:
  • 1/2 lb dried red beans, rinsed and sorted over
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 cup diced sweet onion (about 1 medium onion)
  • 1/2 cup diced green bell pepper (about 1 pepper)
  • 1/2 cup diced celery (about 1 rib)
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic (about 2-3 cloves)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp minced fresh thyme leaves
  • 1-2 tbsp chili powder (if you choose to use smoked sausage, I would decrease this or omit it altogether, for a more traditional flavor)
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red chili flakes (optional)
  • 5 cups chicken stock (or combination of chicken stock and water, if you'd like it less salty)
  • 1 lb leftover Thanksgiving meat, roasted or, even better, smoked (I used a mixture of lamb shank and turkey; for a more traditional flavor, use 1/2 lb smoked sausage and 1/2 lb leftover roasted meat)
  • for the rice:
  • 1 1/2 cups short grain rice* (see Notes)
  • 3/4 cup full-fat coconut milk (about half a 13.5 oz can)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp lime juice


  1. Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside. (Note: Alternatively, if you forget to soak the beans a day ahead, simple bring a pot of water to boil, then pour over the beans and let sit for 1 hour.)
  2. In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bell pepper, celery, and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3-5 minutes. If using smoked sausage or uncooked meat, add the bay leaves, thyme, and meat to the pot, then cook, stirring, until sausage is browned.
  3. Next, add the bay leaves, thyme, roast meat, beans, chicken stock, and spices. Stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, or until beans are just beginning to soften.
  4. Add the leftover roast meat to the pot, then simmer for an additional hour. When beans are tender and creamy and meat is falling off the bones or shreds easily, the red beans are done. Remove the bay leaves and any bones from the meat. If needed, chop the meat roughly or shred into small pieces and add it back to the pot. If you want, you can mash about 1/4 of the beans against the side of the pot to give the stew a creamy consistency. Adjust salt, pepper, and spice levels to taste.
  5. For the rice: Rinse rice under cold water until the water is no longer cloudy. Add coconut milk, water, and salt and stir to combine. If you're using a rice steamer, cook according to the manufacturer's instructions.
  6. If you're using a saucepan, bring liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook, undisturbed, until rice is tender, about 20 minutes.
  7. Fluff with a fork and stir in cilantro and lime juice. Serve with red beans over top.


I used short grain rice because that’s what I usually have on hand (and what, if I remember correctly, they used at Ducks). Coconut-cilantro rice generally uses long grain, and you should feel free to use that if that’s what you prefer! If you opt for long grain, increase the coconut milk to 1 cup and the water to 1 1/4 cup.

This might also be a chance to use any vegetables you might have left after Thanksgiving -- in one version I added a few bunches of chopped kale in the last 30 minutes or so and found it a welcome addition. This is full of room for variation. But I’ll stop there, before I mangle this Louisiana tradition any further.


  1. says:

    November 24, 2015 at 10:27 am

    That lamb shanked pulled apart photo looks so delicious. I want to hang it up on my wall 🙂 . I’ve never had red beans and rice, traditional or with a twist- this sounds delicious though, and Christine is spot on – traditions are made to be mangled. Have a lovely Thanksgiving Cynthia!

  2. says:

    November 24, 2015 at 11:07 am

    Happy happy thanksgiving to you guys and your families! I hope you have a splendid time at home and eat all the delicious food. Totally loving this creative take on leftovers. Is it wrong that I want to go and roast a turkey now just so I can make this?

  3. says:

    November 24, 2015 at 11:11 am

    That lamb shank looks so good and that rice! I never thought I’d want to make a leftover dish but alas, I’m all about this. I love lamb. Happy thanksgiving. Enjoy your first as a married couple!

  4. says:

    November 24, 2015 at 11:56 am

    As your part-Cajun blogger friend, I feel like I can speak on behalf of all Cajuns here and say you have NOTHING to apologize for. This recipe is why I love you, Cynthia. It’s so inventive, it’s got bones from so many different cultures, cuisines, personalities, and people, which is what makes cooking so much fun. (In case you didn’t already know, I’m far more playful than I am purist in the kitchen!) Also, as a lamb lover, red bean lover, and Asian foods lover, I’m intrigued and fairly set on making this this weekend. Hope you and B2 have the happiest of Thanksgivings! xoxox

  5. Erica says:

    November 24, 2015 at 8:52 pm

    This sounds INCREDIBLE. Like, the most creative use of Thanksgiving leftovers I have ever seen on the Internet and I want it RIGHT NOW! Have the happiest of Thanksgivings Cynthia!

  6. says:

    November 26, 2015 at 12:53 am

    I’m really not that good with leftovers either. Somehow, they don’t inspire me to get creative in the kitchen. That’s really such a shame, as leftovers can be turned into delicious meals! Well, like you showed us in this post. We’re not celebrating Thanksgiving here in Europe but I would still love to eat this this week.

    Hope you have the most wonderful time back home! xx

  7. says:

    November 27, 2015 at 8:01 pm

    Beans and rice is the ONLY way to my heart. This reminds me of rajma chawal, a North Indian speciality that is served with lots of ghee on top (no meat). This is just the most perfect food for a snuggly night! I think as long as we remember and acknowledge where traditions come from (much like the whole celebration of Thanksgiving, right?) there’s absolutely no hard and fast rule that we have to stick to. You have made this your own and done so in a way that embraces tradition (shout out to your mama!). It’s quite poetic, actually. 🙂 I’ll remember your mother’s wise ways next time I have leftovers.

  8. Connie says:

    November 28, 2015 at 2:36 am

    So I have just discovered your blog (so late to the game, I know) and I’m genuinely so excited to cook through all your recipes. You’ve read my mind and have somehow compiled all the foods and cuisines I’m most obsessed over in one place. Just wanted to show my appreciation!

  9. says:

    November 30, 2015 at 6:49 am

    I was never a fan of leftovers growing up. Maybe because everything in India gets cooked for the meal. Almost everything is cooked fresh every single meal! Your dish looks exactly like the Indian dish called Rajma, sans the meat. It is a favorite meal I think of every single kid in India! This just made me soo very hungry. I love the addition of coconut rice. I might be trying this with the Indian version. I absolutely love your pictures. <3

  10. says:

    July 15, 2016 at 8:51 am

    When it comes to leftovers, I flunk. Whatever I manage to make out of them bores my family to death, lol.

    You are one of the few to share a leftover recipe on the web. Your recipes are so unique.

    We always cook rice in water. Using coconut milk is perfect.

    Thanks, Cynthia.


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