Beans — Part I

4 03 2010

We’ve been looking into new ways to incorporate beans into our meals. While we’ve made them in the past, they just haven’t gotten mixed into the regular meal rotation. This time, we’d like to spend some time getting to know them again and work out a few recipes that we can hold onto.

One of the most important things to remember in buying beans is to get them fresh, as in less than 1-2 years old, but fresher if you can find them. The older they get, the harder they are to cook, and the more likely you are to end up with hard, crunchy beans instead of smooth, creamy goodness. One way to find fresh beans is to search out the markets that sell a lot of them.

We have so far mainly purchased beans from our favorite Mexican market Northgate Gonzales. Northgate is a chain that began as a small grocery in Los Angeles in 1980 and has expanded to 30 large groceries throughout Southern California. They carry a number of beans in bins that are often on sale including pinto ($0.49-$0.89/lb), black ($0.99/lb), peruano ($0.79-$1.29/lb), and flor de mayo ($1.49/lb). The flor de mayo seem like a firmer version of the pinto and the peruano are yellow beans that make really yummy refried beans.

Indian markets also sell a variety of beans with high turnover, if you group lentils in with the mix. Ker Distributors is a large market off Black Mountain Rd. with a good selection. Closer to us is the smaller India Sweets and Spices.

They carry at least 10 different kinds of lentils, white and desi chickpeas, kidney, red, black beans, and more. Most beans and lentils are $3.79 for a 2 lb. bag and $6.99 for a 4 lb. bag. We picked up a bag of white garbanzos/chickpeas and a bag of kidney beans.

The last time we made beans, we got bogged down in the time needed to cook them. It wasn’t that we couldn’t plan for it, but needing to soak something overnight and then cook for 1 – 1 1/2 hours before using it in a recipe, which might take an additional 20 minutes, was a bit rough on a weeknight. We found 2 possible solutions. One is a way to cook beans without soaking in the oven that only takes 90 minutes. The other includes soaking, but follows it with cooking in a pressure cooker for 10-12 minutes for most varieties. Along with heating and cooling down, that should take 30 minutes, which is more reasonable.

We have tried the 90 minute beans with pintos and were really pleased, although they took an extra 15 min. For today’s adventure, we’re going to test out something that is kind of close, but not really, to a cassoulet. We’re doing a real simple version adding in onions, garlic, chicken stock, diced and cooked bacon,

and our house “andoullie-style” sausage (just pork shoulder ground with spices, it isn’t in casings or smoked).

One of the posters on eGullet claimed that they make cassoulet using the 90 minute method, so we figured it *might* work. Usually, the convention is that you don’t want to add anything when cooking beans, especially salt, or they won’t absorb the water. But the 90-minute recipe threw out that rule, so why not go whole hog? We mixed everything up in a dutch oven and brought it to a boil on the stove.

We then put a tight-fitting cover on the pot, placed it in the oven at 250F, crossed our fingers and waited for 75 minutes.

When we opened the pot after 75 min, the beans were nowhere close to done. Still chalky!

Luckily, we recently purchased a pressure cooker. Here she is. The valve moves up as the pressure goes up and the double red line indicates that she is at 15 PSI.

We dumped the beans in it and after 3 tries of cooking them 5-10 minutes in each attempt, we were finally rewarded with cooked beans. Lessons learned — “quick cassoulet” is just a dream and pressure cookers are great at saving beans that just won’t cook, even if they have stuff like sausage, bacon, and stock.

We had the beans over red rice, a kind of partially polished rice from Thailand that is nutty, chewy, and slightly sweet. That’s creme fraiche on top with a little green onion.

Especially considering this dish came back from the dead, we were quite happy with this first attempt. The flavor was just awesome — the stock in particular was quite rich and brought all the flavors together. The kidney beans were mostly creamy, but a little dry in parts. No worries, though – we’ll solve that by the end of the badge. It was particularly surprising how complex the flavor was given the few ingredients. Bacon and andouille spices definitely play well together!




One response

4 03 2010

A pressure cooker is a must, especially for beans! I have used mine for years and it is my favorite kitchen item. Everything cooks so fast. Also good for the environment because you use less fuel. If you are too impatient to let it cool, put it in the sink and run cold water on it and you will be able to open it in 1-2 min. Although for beans the “cooling off” time contributes to cooking, so you may need to cook your beans for 5 min longer if you do this method.

Also Erin, I am planning to cook Shawn a rabbit this weekend for his birthday (his choice). They sell them at the Amish store. Do you have any experience cooking rabbits? Any recommendations? Email me if you do. I’ll have to get over my squeamishness about cooking and eating bunnies.

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