Thursday, May 10, 2012

How to Have Beans for Dinner


Okay, so this isn't really a recipe, it's just some thoughts about beans, and about how good they are. Recently I said to Ben, "If you could only eat one regular food--not, like, sushi or lobster--every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?" And he said, "I'm not sure. Maybe pasta or something like Caesar salad. Are you thinking beans?" And yes I was. I was thinking beans. Because they are so good that I can sit down to a bowl of plain, perfectly cooked pintos and say aloud, completely serious, "If I got this in a restaurant, I'd be thrilled." And then I get the that's-nice-mom-shhh-there-there smiles from the kids, the kids who say, genuinely, "These are great beans," but who might not be inclined do a series of cheering back handsprings about them.

Birdy's beans.
We eat beans at least once a week, often in dishes like tamale pie or tacos or soup, or with brown rice, but also very often just plain, with some fresh bread or buttered toast or tortillas on the side and, maybe, a salad. But here's the thing: the beans have to be nice and tender, they have to be salted, and you have to put out pretty little bowls of toppings, which is the thing that makes everyone feel like they got to have their perfect plate of food.

Were you wondering about the pink blur?
This does not need to be fancy! Things I typically put out:
  • good olive oil for drizzling (usually I just drizzle it as I'm serving the beans)
  • diced white or red onion
  • hot sauce (Smoked Tabasco is a current favorite around here)
  • jarred pickled jalapeno slices
  • arugula leaves or cilantro or slivered cabbage
  • diced avocado (if we have it, which is only sometimes)
  • lime wedges
  • crumbled Feta (or other grated cheese, but the salty crumbles of Feta really are perfect)
And then the beans themselves, which are usually pinto beans, because they are the best beans in the whole world: creamy and delicious, with an almost bacon-ish flavor that I find totally irresistible. Plus, they're full of protein and vitamins and antioxidants. If you're using canned beans, plan on two cans, warm them in their liquid, and then drain them well before drizzling them with olive oil. But if you can get your mind around cooking your own dried beans, then do.

Ben's beans.
I cook a pound of beans at a time: I pick through them haphazardly to get out stones and shrively beans and old coins, etc., then generously cover them with water in a large pot (or my pressure cooker, more on that in a minute), add a tablespoon of salt and an optional sprig of marjoram, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Heat off, cover, let the beans soak for an hour or more, and then cook them. If you're boiling them, then go ahead and bring them to a boil and then cook them, covered, at a simmer until they're tender, between 45 minutes and 11 years. (I am aware of the controversy over salting your beans before cooking: this is another reason to get a pressure cooker, since un-tender beans will be just a dim memory.)

Beautiful, unadorned beans. I fish them out of the pot with a slotted spoon, but then I usually end up spooning up the bean juice and eating that too. Should I write a book called The Pinto Bean Diet
But really, you should get a pressure cooker. I swear I don't work for Presto--although I should, because there are no how-to videos on their site. But you can always go to youtube and watch one, and see people with various regional American accents preparing corned beef or black beans or lamb shanks, and you will feel Very Informed and Slightly Bored. Also, you will plainly see that there are no explosions. One thing I recommend, though, is keeping notes about cooking times inside the cover of your pressure cooker guide, because they are nothing like what the guide says ("unsoaked pinto beans" are done in "3-6 minutes" only if you're tripping and think the chalky inside of a bean better connects your living self to the earth's very crust). I pressure-cook soaked pintos for 12 minutes and let the pressure release naturally, and they are perfect every time. Black beans, however, I cook for only 6 minutes, and soaked large limas for, get this, 3! And chickpeas for 15. You need to add a tablespoon of olive oil or lard to the pot before you bring it to pressure (this keeps the bean skins from clogging the vent--not that there would be an explosion if they did). Measure leftovers and freeze them in labeled jars. This is all of my bean advice.

But really, I just love the beans.

48 comments:

  1. Oh, I love beans, too! My husband won't let me get a pressure cooker, but I soooooo want one. I mean, sure, I wrecked a practically new oven door making candles that one time (how DID the wax manage to melt and slide between the two glass panels?). But, that doesn't mean I will blow the house up just to make beans in less time than 11 years!

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    1. I can't recommend it enough. Honestly. It is so much easier than candles! Plus, it will pay for itself in a year (if you eat a lot of beans. . . ). It can, by the way, cook other stuff too, but I use it mostly for beans and bean soups.

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    2. OK, so I've been scouring thrift stores for a month now, and finally found a pressure cooker...But, it doesn't have a pressure regulator. So, now I have to figure out where to get one. Soon, I will make beans!!!

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  2. Laura7:42 PM

    I just made your "camp beans" for dinner! So delish!

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  3. ladidah8:12 PM

    haven't read your post yet but the title made me remember i've been wanting to thank you profusely for recommending "an everlasting meal". thankyouthankyouthankyou!!

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    1. You're welcome! And: right?

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  4. Anonymous10:05 PM

    So.... Do you guys get gassy with all those beans?
    I know this is an indelicate question, but given your paper mache boob pinatas and tendency to discuss hairy martini-shaped body parts I thought it was OK to be indelicate.
    I hear that discarding the soaking water cuts down on this problem. Any gas-avoiding advice??

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    1. Oh, yes. I know. Drain the beans, then cover them with fresh water--which I never do. We don't have more gas than other families, I think. I don't actually know! I mean nobody gets uncomfortable, although, sure, everybody farts occasionally.

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    2. Erin K.1:45 AM

      I've heard from a few people and a vegan cookbook that putting a square of kombu or nori in the water while you cook the beans get rid of the gas.

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  5. I have a pressure cooker, but I still seem to cook beans most often in the crock pot. I'll soak for 24hrs if I remember (usually it's more like 12) while changing the soak water a few times. Then into the crock pot with 1/2 inch of water to cover, plus half an onion, carrots, celery, a can of tomato sauce, bay leaves, chiles en adobo if I have them (or smoked paprika and chipotle tabasco if I don't), marjoram, salt, pepper, and lots and lots of cumin. I know how you feel about cumin, but they just aren't beans to me without it. Let them go for about 8hrs on low and I get a lovely sauce to serve them with (fishing out the spent veg, and adding even more cumin!).

    I also think pintos make the best bowl of beans, though I do keep black, kidney and garbanzo in the house at all times. I just have much better luck with the bean keeping its shape and integrity when done slower in the crock pot opposed to the pressure cooker. If I'm making black bean soup, I'll let those cook under pressure for 20mins or so, and I just have to look at them sideways for the soup to blend itself.

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    1. I've had less good luck with crock-pot beans, but I'm glad that you posted your directions here. Thank you so much!

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  6. Monica10:48 PM

    Really quickly, I just wanted to address the person who posed the gas question. I recently heard (or maybe read somewhere?) that the more you eat beans, the more your body gets accustomed to them and the less you pass gas. You know, I've been reading your stuff for a solid SEVEN YEARS now and this is my very first comment. And I can't believe it's actually about farting. But as a huge bean fan, I just couldn't let someone out there be worried about the gas issue. We eat beans twice a day (on average) and have no such problems.

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  7. Siobhan Moffitt11:30 PM

    Catherine, I need to ask if you've ever tried Mayocoba beans (also known as Peruvian beans)? Because pintos used to be our go-to beans until I tried these mayocobas that my husband's cousin made years ago. I've never looked back! They're that good! Creamy and delicious. As a bean-lover, you should try them. And I agree with Monica - we eat beans many times a week and no gas issues. Also, the method one uses for cooking the beans can help cut down on the gas-inducing substance (according to Deborah Madison)

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    1. I am going to look them up!

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  8. Tina g11:52 PM

    I may just cook me some beans this weekend. Old coins~ you crack me up!

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  9. Thank you for the bean advice! I will try to be a more diligent pre-soaker, oh, and buy another freezer for all my beans I'll now be freezing. Thanks!

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  10. Angela5:30 AM

    Beans. I'm not a fan because... they give me tummy ache. BUT I too have heard that the more you eat them, the more you get accustomed to them. There is an enzyme which your body only makes when it needs it - alpha galactosidase, which breaks down something in the beans which otherwise gives you gas - and you can increase the amount you make by slowly increasing your bean consumption (what, one more bean a day, or something?). It's probably written more scientifically somewhere on the web :)

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    1. One more bean a day! What a great and practical plan. xo

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  11. I really need to get over my irrational pressure cooker fear.

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    1. You really, really do. You will send me roses, I swear.

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  12. Love this column - love you, and you went to college with one of my best friends (that's just an aside - you were in different years). Anyhow, my father grew up in West Virginia in a holler (yes, his father mined coal) and pinto beans were a staple. In fact, my dad was the youngest, and very spoiled, and if there weren't pinto beans for dinner he would cry, which is why they had them, with raw onion to sprinke on top, almost every day. I really need make some pinto beans stat - thanks for the reminder!

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    1. Ah, spoiled kids and their beans! : )

      So funny. We always wonder about that line in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: "I want a feast. I want a BEAN feast!" WTF?

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    2. Anonymous9:07 AM

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bean-feast

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  13. I'm feeling a bit slow here. Do I have this right? To use a pressure-cooker to cook the beans, you put picked-through beans in pressure-cooker, cover beans with water, add salt and bring to a boil. Then turn off the pressure-cooker and leave for an hour. Then cook for recommended time in pressure-cooker? I didn't realize you could boil and then turn off the heat in a pressure-cooker-- is it obvious when they are boiling? I am considering buying a pressure cooker, but I'm not really clear about what I'd use it for besides beans.

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    1. Oh, sorry, no--it's me being unclear. First you treat the pressure cooker like a regular pot, for the soaking part. Your don't do the whole hoo-ha with the lid or the valve or anything (not that it's hard! it's not!), you just boil the beans in it, and then later do the whole hoo-ha with the lid after they soak and you're ready to cook them. Does that make more sense?

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  14. I do love beans. We eat them a few times a week and I never notice any gas issues. I too have an irrational fear of pressure cookers. But considering how often we eat beans, I should work on getting over it. Thanks for the how-to's on pressure cooker usage. I think I will look them up online now.

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  15. Beans are pretty but they are made all the prettier in your Polish pottery. Thankfully I have Polish pottery also to serve beans in. Second, I've heard that when you eat beans, you should drink orange juice with the meal to aid your body in getting the full nutritional benefit from beans. I want to say that came from a Martha Stewart Everyday Food tidbit. Have you heard that?

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  16. Anonymous5:06 PM

    Have you heard of Rancho Gordo? I have been buying heirloom beans from them (on line) for a while now and am always happy. So many varieties!

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  17. According to wikipedia :

    A bean-feast is primarily an annual dinner given by an employer to his workmen. By extension, colloquially, it describes any jollification.

    Any jollification?? How fantastic a phrase is that? Those crazy Brits! I love beans too!
    I am a little afraid of the bok choy from the csa today though. Do you have any suggestions?

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  18. Oh, me too. I just love beans! Thanks for that affirming post. Everything feels right with the world when I've got a hot bowl of beans and a nice glass of wine. Cheers!

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  19. Oh, yes. Then there's your classic Dinner Beans recipe. When my son gets to choose what we have for dinner, that's his first choice. We love it! Keep the beans coming!

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  20. Jennie12:25 AM

    Catherine is not leading you down the primrose path, people. Pressure cookers are awesome! Unsoaked beans in 15 minutes! Stew in 20 minutes (and that includes the chopping)! I like to steam artichokes in mine. 8 minutes for the big ones, if you're wondering.

    Modern pressure cookers are not the terrifying, hissy things that sit menacingly on the stove while you fear being maimed by volcanic liquids and shrapnel. They have release valves should you leave the flame too high, and they have little gauges to show that you have reached the correct pressure. Fear not! Go buy one!

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  21. I have another bean to recommend- anasazi beans. They are very high in protein and are not at all gassy. The taste is similar to pintos, but smokier and sweeter. They also happen to be really pretty before they are cooked, red and white speckled.

    Thanks for all the healthy recipes!

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  22. AnythingforBenBirdy11:03 PM

    I (and my kids) enjoy canned beans - the "tomato" variety, not deep browned - my brand seems to be Heinz. When I try to make beans though and they, and every memory of my Mom's beans as a kid, makes me cringe - there's like this crusty skin that pops off so the texture bleh, do you know what I mean? I so want to make beans that taste like they're out of a can and don't give me one hundred and fifty thousand percent of my sodium intake.

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  23. Likes to visit California9:55 AM

    Catherine (and others), do you know about Phipps Ranch in Pescadero and their incredible selection of dried beans? I'm always bringing bags of beans home in my carry-on luggage because they're too heavy for checked bags.

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  24. Thank you. I'm wanting to make/cook more beans and I'm still scared of them. This helps. I did make your tamale pie recipe the other day and it was yummy.

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  25. Um, we have a pressure cooker, but my beans never take less than 20 or 30 minutes. And they kind of get all banged up in there. So I've started cooking mine in the oven, in a Dutch oven. It takes awhile, but they come out perfect. And please tell me you've tried Rancho Gordo's beans? They are so good. They even have an alternative to pinto, the Bolita, that will just knock your socks off.

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  26. Emily9:23 PM

    Chickpeas are in the pressure cooker as i type this--making Smoky Saucy Chickpeas with Spinach tonight. Yum!! Love the pressure cooker! It's not scary.

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  27. plazamom8:45 PM

    Ooh, KyCat -- I have a delicious bok choy recipe from an old Gourmet magazine. Maybe not the healthiest recipe in the world, but very yummy. You can find this on epicurious.com too, if you want to read the comments and suggestions.

    Braised Baby Bok Choy

    1 cup chicken broth
    3 Tbsp unsalted butter
    3/4 lb. baby bok choy, trimmed
    1/2 tsp. Asian sesame oil

    Bring broth and butter to a simmer in a deep large heavy skillet (sounds great already, doesn't it?). Arrange bok choy evenly in skillet and simmer, covered, until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer bok choy with tongs to servicing dish and keep warm, covered.

    Boil broth mixture until reduced to about 1/4 cup, then stir in sesame oil and pepper to taste. Pour mixture over bok choy.

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    1. plazamom8:46 PM

      ...of course, that's "serving dish," not "servicing dish." I'm not even going to speculate about what a "servicing dish" would look like!

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  28. Funny, I always loved beans, but was embarrassed about it as a kid, both because they were considered bland and awful in my family, & also there was a vague notion that they were a poor person's meat substitute. But last night I put together a simple dinner of white beans, broccoli and brown rice, and everybody loved it, it was healthy and hearty and cost nothing, and I felt like a legume-loving genius.

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  29. Anonymous6:24 PM

    My wife and I love beans too! We are only familiar with the 11 year kind as of now. I plan to get a pressure cooker as soon as I convince my wife that it won't explode and kill us. I will definitely use this article to help persuade her.

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  30. Yum! This is my new go-to meal for spring evenings when I work all day and then have to race out the door to baseball. Tonight the kids ate at home and I packed my meal to eat during the game. I added basil and cucumber because we had it fresh from our CSA. We had it with homemade bread and butter on the side.

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  31. I usually make mine in the slow cooker - one of the only things I really use it for, actually. We also make a pot of pinto beans about once a week. My go-to breakfast is pinto beans with a fried egg on top (cheese, hot sauce, whatever fresh herbs are closeby all optional). To my mind, it's pretty much an ideal breakfast.

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  32. I come from a family of Colorado Pinto Bean Farmers. Grew up eating bowls of pinto beans for supper (yep, "supper"). My husband thought it was so weird at first. I love pinto beans and, also I FEAR my pressure cooker, as I have heard tales of Grandma's cooker exploding and pinto beans hovering above the kitchen table, stuck to the ceiling. But now that I'm nearing the ripe old age of somewherenearforty, I think I might dig that cooker out and give it a whirl. What the heck, the kids are big enough to help me clean up the mess if I screw it up. Thank you for this blog. Pinto beans are the best.

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  33. Anonymous1:24 PM

    I have been completely inspired by your posts about healthy eating and bean dishes and yesterday made one of my own with lentils and a hot mustard dressing! I´m now full of ideas vis-a-vis beans and I thank you for sparking this cullinary creativity within me! KFB from BCN

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