Vegetarian Dirty Rice is inspired by the traditional Creole meat based recipe(s). This meat-free version relies on lentils and kidney beans for protein and texture while leaning on onion, bell pepper, celery and spices to bring out savory, umami filled flavors. Long grain brown rice ties all the ingredients together! This recipe is freezer friendly, vegetarian, vegan and easily gluten free.
When I was in college, and during my early years of marriage, Rob and I had a friend from Southern Louisiana who first introduced us to Cajun and Creole cuisine. It didn’t take long to discover how much I loved the rich flavors and textures of Louisiana style cooking. We’d get together on weekends, compare notes and cook up the best food.
Even though I’m miles away from my old friend and many years from my college days, I carry with me the recipes and flavors inspired by years past. Born out of cravings, I set out to create a recipe that reminded me of the Creole version I once enjoyed.
A Note On Authenticity: There are many variations of dirty rice, and I do not submit this as authentic, especially since it’s vegetarian and vegan. Rather, it’s an inspired recipe based on the flavors I came to know this dish for.
While this recipe relies on traditional dirty rice ingredients like a mixture of onions, green bell pepper and celery as its base and a bit of tomato paste, I also include Cajun (or Creole) seasoning. The main point of diversion comes from the sources of protein and type of rice used.
This vegetarian dirty rice relies on lentils and kidney beans for flavor, protein and texture. Additionally, instead of white rice, I employ hearty, nutty and chewy long grain brown rice to tie all the spices, veggies, garlic, beans and lentils together. A few spices and umami building ingredients create a vegetarian (and vegan) main course recipe that’s full of flavor and so satisfying!
How to Make Vegetarian Dirty Rice
Simple ingredients with pantry staples bring out the best flavors and textures in this hearty main course meal. Here’s how to make it:
- First, put the lentils and rice on to cook. They cook together for ultimate ease!
- Second, cook the onions, celery and bell pepper until soft. Little bits of fond (pronounced fahn – the brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan) will start appearing just before moving on to the next step.
- Meanwhile, drain the rice and lentils, reserving some of the cooking liquid which will be used to make the sauce. Lid and set aside.
- Third, to the onions, celery and bell pepper, stir in the spices, tomato paste and garlic.
- Fourth, to the pan, stir in the reserved rice/lentil cooking liquid to deglaze the pan. Stir in the cooked kidney beans. Lid and simmer for about ten minutes.
- Next, to the saucy bean mixture, stir in the lentils and rice. Sprinkle in liquid smoke and Worcestershire (vegetarian friendly) and stir. Add a bit more cooking liquid as needed to loosen the mixture.
- Last, squeeze a bit of lemon over the finished recipe, stir, taste for salt and sprinkle chopped parsley and green onions or scallions over the top.
Take the heat up by adding your favorite hot sauce. I like Tabasco with this dish.
A Few Recipe Notes
- Freezer Friendly? Yes please! This vegetarian dirty rice freezes with ease. Store in freezer for up to two weeks, thaw in the fridge overnight and gently reheat stovetop.
- Cajun or Creole Seasoning? Use your favorite prepared Cajun or Creole seasoning in this recipe. For homemade, I like Emeril’s Essence with a pinch of brown sugar.
- This recipe calls for pre cooked kidney beans. I like Eden Organic or Westbrae Natural.
- I use French Lentils (du Puy) for this recipe because they hold their shape well, offer an earthy flavor, and have a firmer texture than other lentils when cooked. Find them online, in the bulk bins for best price or prepackaged on the dry bean isle at your grocery.
- Share With: A perfect partner, try my Skillet Cheddar Cornbread or Skillet Gluten Free Cornbread.
More Cajunish Recipes to Love
Vegetarian Dirty Rice
- 6 C (1.3 kg) Water
- 1 C (204g) Long Grain Brown Rice
- 1/2 C (110g) French Lentils dry, uncooked
- 1 Bay Leaf
- 1 tsp Fine Sea Salt divided
- 3 tsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1 C (120g) Green Bell Pepper diced small, about one medium
- 1 C (115g) Red or Yellow Onion diced small, about one medium
- 1/2 C (65g) Celery diced small, about 1 rib
- 2 Tbs Tomato Paste
- 2 Tbs Garlic about 3 large cloves, chopped fine or minced
- 1 Tbs Cajun Seasoning or Creole Seasoning, gluten free if needed
- 1 (425g) Can of Cooked Kidney Beans drained and rinsed
- 1/2 tsp Liquid Smoke gluten free if needed
- 1-2 tsp Vegan Worcestershire Sauce gluten free if needed
- Fresh Lemon Juice
- Chopped Fresh Parsley, and Chopped Chives or Green Onion. for serving
Cook the Rice and Lentils
- In a 4 quart sauce pot bring the water to a boil. Add the rice, lentils, bayleaf and 1/2 tsp salt. Bring back to a boil, turn heat down to medium and lid, leaving lid slightly ajar. Simmer for 30-35 minutes or until the rice and lentils are tender. Drain, reserving at least 1 1/4 C (281g) of cooking liquid (it will be used later to make the sauce). Place the rice and lentils back in their cooking pot, lid and set aside off heat.
Cook the Veggies
- *A note about the veggies. Be sure they're diced small, otherwise they'll be crunchyish at the end of cooking. We're looking for them to be soft. In a large, heavy saucepan with 3" sides (7.5cm), add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the bell pepper, onion and celery. Turn the heat to low. Stir. Cook, stirring occasionally for about 12-15 minutes. The veggies are done when they're tender/soft and brown bits (fond - pronounced fahn – the brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan) are just starting to appear in the pan.
Add the Spices and Beans
- To the pan of veggies, add the tomato paste, garlic, Cajun or Creole seasoning and remaining 1/2 tsp salt. Stir for about 30 seconds, coating the veggies. Pour in 3/4 C (180g) of the reserved cooking liquid from the lentils and rice. Stir. To the pan, add the drained kidney beans. Stir. Heat should be on medium-low to low. Lid the pan and gently cook the beans through for about 8-10 minutes. Check on the beans a few times while cooking and If needed, add just a bit more cooking liquid from the reserved liquid. Your beans should be saucy, and moist, not dry.
Putting it All Together
- Turn the heat to low and transfer the drained rice and lentils to the bean mixture. Add the liquid smoke and Worcestershire sauce (start with 1 tsp of Worcestershire.). Sprinkle a squeeze of lemon over the top and to taste, then gently fold all the ingredients together. If needed, to loosen the mixture or if it starts to get too dry, add a splash of cooking liquid - you'll probably not use it all - thats okay. Taste for salt adjustment and add more Worcestershire to taste. Lid. Leave on low heat for 3-5 minutes just to warm though, checking to make sure it isn't sticking - the pan should be almost dry, with a moist (but not sticky) rice mixture.
- Share with lemon wedges, Tabasco sauce, chopped parsley and chives or green onions.
- Store in a lidded container in the refrigerator for up to three days or in the freezer for up to two weeks. Thaw in the fridge overnight. Gently reheat on stove top adding a splash of water if needed.