Posted by: Barbara Evanhoe | January 26, 2012

“To Bean, Or Not To Bean”

That is the question.

I have always been a “not to bean” person….relying on canned beans whenever the ingredient was needed, mainly refried beans for burritos.

There were few beans consumed in my childhood home. In fact, the only beans I have memory of were a serving of poorly cooked limas on a dinner tray during a hospital stay, and Van Kamps Pork and Beans served chilled, with chopped onions, tomatoes, and a splash of vinegar, as an accompaniment to hot dogs, whenever my Dad was responsible for Saturday night dinner.

Then, in college, during a short stint at Kansas University, someone prepared an amazing pot of navy beans for a party I had been invited to. I’d never heard of navy beans and was reluctant to try them, but this girl knew her stuff, and the beans were delicious.

She explained how she had prepared them, and I tried to replicate the recipe several times, but always ended up with a less than delicious product, so I gave up, deciding that beans just weren’t worth the effort.

Recently, however, one of my daughters sent me an excerpt from the book she is reading, titled “An Everlasting Meal”, by Tamar Adler.

It’s a charming commentary on basic foods and cooking. This excerpt was from the chapter on beans.

Although I no longer sit open-mouthed in amazement when the universe provides just what I need, when I need it, I did stop to make a conscious note to self that this inspirational work which raises beans to the level of gourmet food, had arrived right at the time that Keith and I had decided to incorporate more beans and rice into our diet in an effort to reduce our food costs.

Adler’s writing is conversational and personal. She walks you through the process of cooking beans well, and gives you the courage to give bean cooking another try.

The day I read her work, Keith and I walked to the grocers to purchase a bag of lima beans, Keith’s favorite. Adler suggested that the biggest hurdle to using and eating beans is the soaking part of the preparation ~ which can’t happen with last-minute cooking.

Her solution is to simply put beans in cold water whenever you think of it. There is always something you can do with them, once cooked.

So, with our beans soaking, we filled the rest of the day with music and relaxation, and anticipated eating our beans the next day.

As the beans would take at least 3 hours to slowly simmer, I began my preparations around 10 a.m., carefully following Adler’s instructions for cooking and seasoning.

Soaked and rinsed beans in pot covered with 2″ fresh, cold water. Check

Half and onion, chunk of carrot, stalk of celery, garlic, olive oil, salt and fennel (I used fennel seeds in a tea ball). Check

Pot on stove and contents brought just to a boil, then reduced to a slow simmer. Check.

Patient anticipation, and regular sampling of the delicious broth. Check.

Our beans were not ready at the suggested 3 hour cook time, but I believe I may have had the flame turned down too low on the burner. So, I covered the pot and raised the heat level and cooked for a while longer, until 5 beans tested were soft and creamy. (Adler says that your beans are done when you can blow the skin off the bean, but for some strange reason, every time a bean came near my mouth, it ended up inside before I could blow!)

As soon as our beans were ready, we ladled them into bowls, along with a good measure of broth. Then we sliced up a loaf of Parmesan Bread, chunked up some fresh cheese, uncorked a bottle of Merlot, and sat down to our feast.

Both Keith and I were amazed at how absolutely delicious a simple bean in broth could be….the beans held their shape, but were soft and creamy, and the broth is something to die for…flavorful and satisfying.

Two cups of dried beans, one loaf of bread, one small bottle of wine and a small portion of cheese provided a fabulous main meal for three days. Who could ask for anything more!

Thank you, Tamar Adler, for writing your treatise on beans, and thank you to my daughter for sharing it.

Next step? Seeking out a lentil recipe that appeared on my other daughter’s blog last year…..I just may be ready to give it a go 🙂

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