I’ve always had a cholesterol problem, but thanks to some great pharmaceutical interventions, I’m able to eat a fairly unhealthy diet — red meat, eggs, cream in my coffee. But as we teach our children, just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. Thus, my beef, pork and lamb consumption is really limited to once or twice a week. I’m really into boneless chicken thighs from the local Whole Foods, but I don’t have those more than once a week. Of course, seafood is a primary component of my diet when I’m looking for more protein.
But the one item I’ve added to my regular meal rotation that gets me excited the most is — drum roll, please — beans. Yup, beans. But not just any ol’ beans. I’m not talking about cans of pintos or kidneys or cannelini from the Harris Teeter. I also couldn’t settle on bags of dried beans off the grocery shelves, either. No, my beans are Rancho Gordo heirloom beans from the Sacramento River Delta of California. Now I know we’re supposed to be buying local products, but I just haven’t found that Johnston County dried bean farmer yet. So, I’m going to stick with the beans from Rancho Gordo and its owner, Steve Sando. With varieties such as Santa Maria Pinquito, Good Mother Stallard, or Yellow Indian Woman beans, there’s no shortage of interesting colors and flavors here. Yes, folks, I must admit — I have become a bean snob, and I’ll never be able to thoroughly enjoy a regular grocery store legume again. Damn you, Sando! However, I really can’t say enough good things about these legumes, as they are the freshest, best tasting beans I’ve ever tried. No, they’re not cheap at 5 bucks for a one pound bag, but that bag will feed 6 people when you cook some rice, too. Plus, the shipping cost is a flat $8, no matter how many bags you order.
What makes these beans even better is the recent discovery of an extremely simple and fool-proof cooking method. You do not soak the beans — that doesn’t affect the flavor nor does it minimize the gastric side effects (food writer Russ Parsons has debunked these old myths). You do not have to cook them all day long. This is as fool-proof as it gets, and to call it a recipe is a bit much — it’s really just a matter of throwing a few ingredients in a pot and waiting for nature (and heat) to run their courses. It was Russ Parson himself who first promoted this cooking method, but I learned about it on the eG Forums of the eGullet Society. I’ve “perfected” the technique for Raleigh’s water system.
You simply sweat some onion, garlic and carrot in your choice of oil (of course, duck fat is ideal, which is as healthy as olive oil, but the olive oil will work for vegetarian meals), add your beans to coat with the oil, and then add about three times as much water. Add a half teaspoon or so of salt (another myth: salt does not harm the beans). Bring to a boil, cover, and throw the pot into a 275°F oven. After 60 minutes, stir, add a bit of water if needed, and re-cover. After another hour, stir one more time, put the lid back on, and then turn off the oven. Allow to cool in the oven (I often leave the pot in the oven overnight, although if you’re more concerned about micro-critters growing in there than I am, you’ll want to let it sit only an hour or two more). Your beans will be done — plump, tender, and completely intact. These won’t be mushy beans, they’ll be nirvana. If you want tomatoes or other acids in your beans, don’t add those until the last half hour of cooking (you may want to pre-cook the tomatoes), as the acidity will prevent the beans from softening. Now if your water has a high mineral content or has a fairly low pH (i.e., somewhat acidic), it may take your beans longer to cook. You can solve the problem somewhat by using filtered water.
Even my 11-year old, soccer-playing, hyper-picky eating daughter loves these beans and has started to make them her pre-practice snack. Protein, fiber, and some carbs — with lots of flavor and little fat. Sounds like a great snack to me.
Give these beans and this cooking method a try. You’ll soon be converted, too.