Cooking Techniques: Dry Beans

I once received a book from a foodie-friend for my birthday. The title was An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy & Grace. This book completely changed the way I cook; no longer do I rely on recipes, going to the grocery store to buy ingredients I think I need, spending frivolously just to make a meal the way I think it’s intended to be. This book taught me versatile cooking techniques, how to stretch your ingredients, and how to improvise.

One of the techniques I learned from this book is how to cook dry beans. I love beans. They are rich in fiber, protein and are heart-healthy. They lower cholesterol and make a nice compliment to any meal. They keep very well after being cooked and one pound of beans goes a long way.

My favorite purveyor of beans is Rancho Gordo. You can find their beans in natural grocery stores in the Bay Area as well as farmer’s markets. They are located in Napa and have a huge variety of heirloom beans at reasonable prices ($5.50/lb). I never knew beans could be so good until I started cooking with these employing the technique I learned in the above referenced book. My favorite variety is called Good Mother Stallard. They are velvety smooth and make an awesome bean broth.

Cooking beans is very simple. Generally it starts with a long soak. You only need to soak beans if they aren’t super fresh. Rancho Gordo beans don’t need to be soaked because they are always fresh, but I do anyway to reduce overall cooking time. Once you soak your beans, you can drain them, rinse them, add fresh water, and get to cooking.

The Most Delicious Beans You’ve Ever Had

1. Soak your beans during the day if you are into planning ahead. This will save you time later on.
2. When you get home that evening, drain the beans (you can give this water to a potted plant, if you have one), give them a good rinse, then add them back to the same pot & cover them with two inches of fresh water.
3. Add a good, long pour of olive oil. Add a couple whole smashed cloves of garlic, a bay leaf, and any odds and ends you may have in your refrigerator. Carrots, celery, onions with skins, fennel bulb, parsley stems, fresh thyme sprigs, parmesean rinds & celery root all give great flavor to the broth. Throw them in there halved or quartered. Don’t overdo it. You  don’t want your pot stuffed full with no room; the beans need space to expand. Do not add salt yet.
4. Bring the beans & things to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. I like to cover my beans to prevent the water from evaporating, and you also require less heat to simmer them this way. This saves energy.
5. Cook those puppies until they are tender and have a smooth consistency when eaten. This generally takes about an hour and a half from start to finish. They are done when you sample five beans and they are all delicious and smooth. Do NOT be afraid to taste as you go. Don’t over-cook or under-cook them. Add salt to taste at this point. Wait a minute or two, taste again, and adjust salt if needed. Turn off the heat.
6. Remove all the odds and ends from your delicious beans & throw into the compost bin. You’re done!

These beans can be used in any way and stored in mason jars in the fridge for up to a week. Sometimes I’ll reheat a pint of beans w/broth in a small pot and poach an egg IN the beans. Beans are great in soups, by themselves, with anything pork, mixed with sauteed bitter greens such as kale or beet greens, served alongside sausage, with fish, you name it. The greatest thing about these beans is the broth; even if you’ve eaten all the beans, save the broth in jars in the freezer and use it as a soup base. Nothing gets wasted.

I enjoyed these beans tonight with Fatted Calf Lamb Merguez Sausage & beet greens sauteed in olive oil. Delicious!