It’s so much easier with a friend to hold your hand down the path, and that’s what Farmer B did a few weeks ago by making our household’s first batch of beans from scratch. A while back I had filled a jar with beautiful cranberry beans from the bulk section of my food co-op, but they sat in our pantry like a pretty pantry ornament until one morning when FB texted me saying, “Will you soak the beans?” I put them in to soak and five or six hours later she came home and cooked them. Simple as that. (We’d actually planned it a bit in advance so we had celery in the house, which we don’t normally have, but otherwise it was quite stress-free.)
The cranberry beans were heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo, which is a local organization that is impacting heirloom bean awareness and popularity on a national scale. (They were #2 on the Saveur 100 list in 2008.) Farmer B and I decided that for our first beans from scratch we would follow the Rancho Gordo “Master Recipe” and see how that went for us. It has you soak the beans and then cook them with a simple mirepoix, although ultimately FB added a few flourishes of her own.
What can I say about these beans that will adequately convey how delicious they were? I’ll say this – for the first two days, everyone in our house would only take little tiny bites of the beans. This was because they were so good, so unbelievably delectable, that each of us felt guilty eating them and depriving the others of more bean-delight, each of us was holding back because we knew if given the chance we would eat them all. They were meat-like in the sense of being completely satisfying, almost smoky, with an incredible mouth-filling texture. They didn’t need anything – no sauce, no accompaniment, no place in a larger meal. These beans stood alone. Although they were mighty fine with fried eggs and homefries, too..
Rancho Gordo Master Recipe for Simple Beans (with Farmer B’s optional additions in italics – feel free to substitute your own flavor elements instead!)
1. The morning of the day you want to make the beans, rinse the beans and check for debris. Put the beans on to soak, covering them in about an inch of water.
2. Make a mirepoix of onion, celery and carrot diced fine and sautéed in some kind of fat, like olive oil. A crushed clove of garlic doesn’t hurt.
3. Add the beans and their soaking water to a large pot. (Steve of Rancho Gordo addresses the gassiness question here.) The beans will have expanded, so make sure they are still covered by at least an inch, maybe a bit more. Add the sautéed vegetables, crushed garlic, a strip of kombu, some whole cumin seeds, a few bay leaves, and a couple of peppercorns, and give a good stir. Raise your heat to medium high and bring to a hard boil.
4. Keep the beans at a boil for about five minutes and then reduce them to a gentle simmer, then cover. I like to see how low I can go and still get the occasional simmering bubble. When the beans are almost ready, the aroma will be heady. They won’t smell so much like the vegetables you’ve cooked but the beans themselves. At this point. I’d go ahead and salt them. Go easy as it takes awhile for the beans to absorb the salt. If you want to add tomatoes or acids like lime or vinegar or red wine, wait until the beans are cooked through.
If the bean water starts to get low, always add hot water from a tea kettle. The tap produces disgusting water for food. Don’t forget to remove the kombu strip before serving.