Of course, you can always use use diced, cooked ham leftover from a Baked Ham Dinner as an option, if you happen to have some on hand that you bought on sale and used in a previous recipe earlier. Or you can use leftover chicken from a roast chicken dinner.
But that's not always the case. So when I wanted to double the original recipe to accommodate my teenage boys’ appetites, I added a cheaper protein option by using lentils to augment the sausage and keep the meal within my budget and health parameters.
I also of course exchanged brown rice for the white rice called for in the traditional recipe, and added a good quantity of vegetables in the form of collard greens. This nutrition-packed vegetable is a mainstay of many Southern recipes, so it seemed a good choice for this dish whose origins are in Louisiana. It adds color and vitamins and also makes it a truly balanced meal.
If you use fresh collard greens, that adds a bit of prep time, but it’s still a very quick meal to put together since everything is essentially thrown into the pot and simmered together. Total preparation time,using fresh ingredients is only about 25 minutes. Using frozen greens cuts that time to about 15 minutes.
Cook time takes a little more than an hour on the stovetop, so from start to finish, the meal takes about 90 minutes. It can also be done in a slow cooker on low for about 4 hours.
Dirty Rice is meant to have a bit of a zing to it, but just how much is up to the cook and personal tastes. The recipe as written is mildly spicy and manageable for most palates. If you're like my sons, you might want to take the heat up a notch or two by increasing the red pepper content.
All told, this recipe costs about $8. It makes 8-10 servings, depending on appetite. Served with a fresh, tossed salad and optional fresh bread, the total meal cost is about $12, so around $1.50 per serving for 8 people. Less if your family’s appetites are smaller, and you get 10 servings out of the dish.
It’s also very easy to make this meal completely vegetarian if you’d prefer, by simply eliminating the sausage altogether and following the rest of the instructions as written. This makes the meal even cheaper.
A final note: If you are using pre-cooked sausage, such as Kielbasa, then I recommend just adding it towards the end of the cooking time. Simply stir it into the rice for the last 15 minutes or so.
Here's the recipe:
Dirty Rice With Collard Greens
Makes 8-10 servings
Prep time – 25 minutes
Start to finish time – 80-90 minutes
Total recipe cost – approximately $8.00
Total per person meal cost with salad and bread – approximately $1.50
1 pound sausage of your choice (Italian, Kielbasa, etc.)
1-3 cups leftover, diced ham or chicken
1 large onion
1 large green pepper
3 large stalks of celery
1 large bunch of fresh collard greens (1-1½ pounds)
1-1½ pounds frozen collard greens
1½ cups brown rice
1 cup lentils
6 cups of water
1 29-oz cans crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes (or to taste)
½ teaspoon black pepper (or to taste)
1 bunch of fresh parsley (optional)
Recipe continues below photos
- Slice the 1 pound of sausage lengthwise in half, and then crosswise to make pieces about ⅛– ¼ -inch in size.
- Peel and dice the large onion.
- Wash and dice the large green pepper
- Wash and dice the 3 stalks of celery.
- Prepare the bunch of collard greens by removing most of the stem portion so that you have mostly only the leafy portion left. Some people remove the stems entirely by tearing them all the way up the leaf, but I don't bother.
- Stack the leaves or hold them firmly in a bunch and cut across them to make strips about 1½ - 2 inches wide. Then cut across the strips to make rectangular pieces roughly 2-3 inches long. They do not have to be precise in size.
- Place the cut up greens in a large bowl or pan and fill it with enough cold water so that the leaves float. Swish them around to dislodge any garden residue.
- Scoop the greens out of the water and into a colander. Drain and rinse the bowl. Repeat the washing process 1-2 more times, as needed to get rid of any garden grit.
- Combine all the ingredients (uncooked sausage, diced onion, green pepper, celery, collard greens, 29-32 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, 1 cup of lentils, 1½ cups of brown rice rice, 6 cups of water, 1 teaspoon of salt, ½-1 teaspoon or red pepper, and ½ teaspoon of black pepper) in a large pot with a lid. NOTE: if you are using a pre-cooked sausage or other meat, you can wait until the end to add it.
- Cover and place the pan over high heat just until it begins to boil. Then reduce the heat to medium or low to maintain a steady, gentle simmer.
- Set a timer for 60 minutes.
- Check the pot periodically to make sure it is simmering and to monitor the liquid levels.
- Meanwhile, wash and chop the bunch of optional parsley.
- When the timer goes off, check to see if the rice and lentils are done. If need be, add cooking time in 10-minute increments and/or add water in ½-cup increments.
- When the rice and lentils are done, stir any pre-cooked sausage, as well as the optional parsley into the rice mix. Allow to heat through for about 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings.
- Serve the Dirty Rice with a tossed salad, and, if desired, some fresh bread on the side.