With responsibilities to cook for my own family now (even if it is only a two-member household), I can better sympathize with my mother’s occasional pleas to help her put together a weekly menu when I was growing up. I remember her stating sometimes that she didn’t know what to cook anymore, would we please give her suggestions. It wasn’t that my father, my two sisters and I were difficult to please–I understand now that sometimes she simply ran out of ideas. My mother decided to work outside of the home once my youngest sister entered kindergarten and after a full day–I understand now–cooking became more of a chore rather than a pleasurable task. Still, the meals she served never tasted forced or half-hearted. She knew her way around a kitchen. Still does.
In many respects, I’m very fortunate. I have only one other palate to consider besides mine and I’m the persnickety one. Save for very few dishes that I can eat day in/day out, I’m the one who prefers variety, always yielding to the whims and desires of my taste buds. On the other hand, if my menu rotation consisted of only these three items–roasted brussels sprouts or salad or plain brown rice–I think my husband could be happy. Just no goat cheese, please. When we were dating and I would make him endure nightly conversations with me (he was never one for long chats on the phone) my inquiry about his dinner would yield the same response 90% of the time: tacos with brown rice, avocado, sprouts, mushrooms and gruyere. Creature of habit? Yes.
Of late, the most popular request at home has been for beans and rice. My husband likes to tell me that the two together are a complete protein. That is all well and good–to me, a Latin-inspired meal is never complete without beans and rice–but I’ve always used the canned variety. If beans were to take center stage on a plate, they would have to be special. The problem is that my bean-cooking repertoire nonexistent. Until now.
Upon the recommendation of a friend, I ordered several bags of heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo in Napa Valley. The company’s website touts beans of various attributes but I will admit that I made my selection based on looks alone. They offered beans of all colors and patterns, I couldn’t resist.
For my first attempt, I used the nude-hued Bolita beans. Said to be possessing of a nutty, sweet taste, I probably couldn’t go wrong on the preparation. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a bean recipe that spoke to me so I nixed my plans and turned to soup as an alternative. I sauteed onions, celery, carrots and tomatoes before adding water, stock and seasonings and let the pot simmer for a bit. After a bit of time, however, I scolded myself for quitting so easily and decided to experiment. I allowed the liquid to cook down and added tomato paste and a bay leaf and simmered for another hour.
In the end, I was very pleased with the results. The tomato paste lent a richness to the beans that I might not have been able to achieve otherwise. The vegetables had all but disappeared into the mix but their freshness was still discernible. The beans were tender and even better after an evening of melding with the rest of the ingredients. I found the overall flavor to be versatile–it will stand on its own or with rice but the tomato component is not too strong that it should be excluded from a simple bean and cheese burrito. My husband was a happy customer. Now I can boast a bean-cooking repertoire of one. It’s a start.
Slow-Cooked Heirloom Beans
- 1 lb dry beans (soaked in water for 6 hours)
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 2-3 ribs celery, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 tomatoes, diced
- 2 heaping tablespoons tomato paste
- No-salt seasoning (to taste but I used at least 1 – 1/2 tbsp)
- Chopped thyme (a few dashes dried–I will use fresh next time)
- 1 bay leaf
- Fish Sauce, 1-2 tablespoons
- 2 cups stock (your choice) and water (mostly water)
- Olive oil
- Sauté onions, carrots, celery in olive oil over med-high heat
- Add tomatoes and fish sauce and cook for a few minutes
- Add beans, 2 cups chicken stock and enough water cover up to 1-2 inches above bean line (originally intended as soup). Also add thyme and seasonings at this time.
- Simmer for 45 min – 1 hour, allowing water to cook down but not to let it dry up completely.
- Add bay leaf and tomato paste and a bit more water to loosen beans slightly.
- Add salt to taste
- Simmer for another 45 – 1 hour.