Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Today, it's all about the beans.

Beans, beans, good for your heart, I'll refrain from the rest of the ditty because they ARE good for your heart. link (the benefits of beans, 9 reasons why you should eat beans).

I grew up in  New England where beans were "Boston Baked", came in a brown glass jar with a piece of over cooked salt pork sunk in to it and were served with frankfurters and dark brown molasses bread which came in a can. Then when I went to grammar school in Florida I was introduced to chili con carne, which meant mostly over cooked kidney beans with a hint of beef, the Hispanic influence hadn't really hit so who knew what carne meant.

Then, I met refried pinto beans in a taco hut in San Diego (this was about 50 year ago, we and the beans have come a long way), they were a change from the kidney beans but the texture was closer to  a soupy pile that filled the plate from rim to rim. They were ok but I didn't dream about a bowl of pintos.

In the early 80s I wanted to make new and different bean salads for the cafe and found a plethora of heirloom beans from an organically run farm in California: Rancho Gordo. Scarlet runners, Christmas limas, borlotti cranberry beans, flageolets, big giant white beans for cassoulet, wow, beans beans beans! We had great fun exploring these jewels from the pods.

Now I want to pass on the beginners steps to enjoying beans, and please look at all the good reasons we should include these wonder bubbles of protein, fiber and minerals.


What you will need:
Your choice of dry beans
Olive Oil
Coarse Sea Salt

    Take your choice from the bean bar at your grocery store, or choose some new names from your health food market, but don't get garbanzos (chickpeas), that is for a different experiment.

Start with only one cup, those babies will give you  about three cups of finished beans so start slow so you don't have too many leftovers for days in the fridge, beans as a science project can be pungent.

    Use a heavy non reactive small pot, a two quart will do.

Do not wash the beans, but spread them out on a towel and look for any broken pieces or bits of sticks or stones, then just have them ready in a small bowl.

Have a quart of water in a pitcher or some container ready near the stove.I like to use an empty wine bottle, it is a litre, and pours  nicely with out splashing much,and you can count how many litres you used.

Squirt about a tablespoon of olive oil in the pot and put it on med/hi heat, pour in the beans, swirl them around for about 3-5 minutes until you hear them sizzle, don't burn them.

Pour in about a table spoon of water and let the steam whoosh!! and sizzle out. Then pour in another spoonful...Whoosh!, ZAP!

Let the high real steam shock those babies in to thinking they want to get out of there pronto, but no go. When the third or fourth spoon full of water no longer gives out the Whoosh!, then pour it all in, let them come to a boil then turn the heat down to med-lo.

Keep the water jug at the ready in case they start to get dry. Notice NO SALT! Remember this is your practise run so next time you can add the bay leaf or some garlic but this time it is a bean experience only.

Depending on the bean you have chosen, the cooking time can be between 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, this time you only have about 3 cups of finished beans, so keep about 2 inches of good beany broth all the way to the end,don't let them dry out.

   Test a bean at the 45 minute point and mush it with a fork on a plate. Is it starchy all the way through or is there a spot in the center that is not done, if so just check every ten minutes but don't boil, just a gentle simmer, you want to keep the bean from bursting and making the broth all thick.

When you are happy with how it feels in your mouth, turn off the burner and now sprinkle enough coarse sea salt in there to make them and you much happier. 

Let them cool a little - spoon out a bowlful, and pour on some nice fragrant olive oil, a little pepper and dig in!  If you're happy with them, write down what you did and the timing for the kind of beans you used. Remember the next time you will probably use two or three  cups of beans, a larger heavy pot, maybe a bay leaf or two, toast some cumin seeds with the beans at the beginning, and a cinnamon stick, the options are as varied as your pantry.

   Don't throw out the broth! If you are not going to use the beans until they are cold for a salad, DON'T DRAIN them, let them cool in the broth, the oil and the broth will keep them shiny and moist for the salad or what ever your plans are.

Now you are ready to explore bean world!

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