Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Winter Cooking Project # 2: Pot O’ Beans

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We’ve all heard a million times how good beans are for the bod. Full of all sorts of nutrients and minerals that can turn you into a superhero, vitamins like B, which helps with metabolism and breaking down carbohydrates. Specifically dried beans, versus canned, which ARE more convenient for day-to-day cooking, but reportedly lose much of their nutritional punch in the canning process. So I’ve been turning more to preparing dried legumes like chickpeas, black beans, small white French beans, which I always thought I had to soak first to make them more digestible–which meant I would never get around to doing it because the extra step seemed like a bit of a drag, or I would man-up and soak a batch, but then forget I had done it and the beans would turn into some swampy, sprouty muck on the counter. But now more and more preparations are supporting a non-soaking method, which still takes a bit of time, but eliminates the whole overnight thing. This is also a great cooking project because one bag of beans can be stretched into a whole week of dishes for lunch and dinner—from rice and beans, soup, burritos, and bean salads—and also frozen for cold and lazy weeknights ahead.

Although you don’t have to get fancy with the kind of beans you use, for this week’s cooking-project I used a variety of heirloom bean called Midnight Black from the wonderful producer Rancho Gorde out of Napa. The advantage of using high quality beans, besides the taste, is that they tend to be fresher, so soaking is even more unnecessary. You can order them on-line but I brought home a couple of bags during my book tour leg though the San Francisco area (there’s a Rancho Gorde stand at the famed Ferry Plaza Market Place). The beans truly are as black as midnight, they come out almost inky.

In KEEPERS we have a simple cooking method which I like because it’s the most versatile, I did a variation on this:

You basically combine 1lb of black beans (make sure you rinse them thoroughly and remove any stones or odd bits) with 6 cups of cold water in a pot. Then add a couple of smashed garlic cloves, a small dried chile or half of a fresh chile of your choice (remove the seeds and stems if you don’t want the beans too spicy), 1 small chopped onion, and herbs (you can do a few stems of cilantro, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, your choice).

Bring it all to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook until the beans are al dente, about an hour depending upon how fresh the beans are (keep trying them). Add 1 teaspoon of salt and continue to simmer for another 45 minutes or until tender. There’s a good chance that the water will dry up at some point so keep an eye on the pot (you don’t want the pot to become dry because the beans on the bottom will burn) and add more water when needed so that the beans are always covered. You want the resulting beans to be a little soupy.

Remove the chile and herb stems and check the seasonings, adding more salt and pepper as needed.

Eat right away or keep in the fridge or freezer. They can be warmed up gently on the stove or in the microwave.

P1290274 My favorite way to eat black beans is over a bowl of warm rice topped with slices of ripe avocado drizzled with a vinaigrette, a spoonful of Greek yogurt, and a healthy douse of hot sauce. I don’t think there’s anything better on a winter day.

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