Let’s talk about beans and their cousins, the southern pea, today, a food that has sustained stressed civilizations across the globe and the centuries. What better time to do that when we all are eating more often at home and looking for those budget-stretching meals as well as approaching more moderate even cold temperatures of the fall and winter. Beans are where its at, fellow locavorians and frugalistas.
First consider the wide variety of tastes that are available to the cook. I cannot name them all but here is an incomplete list - red beans, great northern, pintos, navies, black, limas, butter beans, purple hulls, blackeyes, gorbanzos...I know I’ve missed many of them, but that list alone is enough for a lifetime of meals.
Then consider the expense or lack thereof. Dry beans may give you the very best deal on the supermarket shelf. For a few dollars at most, you can easily turn a 1 lb bag of beans into meals for 12 people, taking no more time than it takes to prepare the same meal for 2. They store well in the fridge or the freezer, so make a lot and package them for later.
What makes the meal is the way you flavor them and the heritage cuts we supply are perfect for the bean pot. Think of all the protein additions that can enhance the simple bean. Fresh or smoked jowl, hocks or bacon, ground pork or beef, link or pan sausage, stock bones for your liquid.
And you can add your other vegetables in the same pot. Mirepoix and other vegetable bases are essential to rounding out this meal. Let’s put it together into a simple but elaborate recipe that will make any chef and dietitian smile - not to mention your family of eaters.
The Perfect Meal
If you really put your heart into it, you can spend your entire Sunday afternoon, or you can cut any of these steps out and still have a fine meal. Here I give you everything you can do to make The Perfect Meal while putting away many more for the week and month ahead. I’m not much on giving quantities in my recipes. Just balance all of the ingredients as your eye and intuition tells you.
Choose your bean or southern pea. Soak them overnight in water thrice as high as your dry beans. Drain them the next morning.
The next morning, start your stock bones in water sufficient to make the liquid for your cooking process. Add some canned stock if you don’t feel the bones are enough. (I like to broil the bones first, then put them in the stock pot.) Boil the bones, skim, and then put them to a slow simmer for several hours.
Make a mirepoix by separately mincing carrots, onions, celery and garlic. This is the perfect use for your blender or food processor. Add water to the vessel as you mince each vegetable, then strain and save the liquid for your bean stock (except the onion juice, which I find too bitter.)
In your bean pot, fry or saute your meat until it is nearly cooked and has released its fats. Remove the meat and use the fat to saute your mirepoix. This is the time to add pickled jalapeno slices for a nice pop to your beans. A pound of meat is not too much if you are making as much or more of a pound of dry beans.
When the mirepoix has softened, add your beans, the stock from your mirepoix, and the stock from your bones. Boil first, skim again if necessary, and reduce to a simmer. Stir only occasionally.
After 1 hour, add your meat and simmer for another hour. I like to add chunks of carrots for this last hour of cooking. Begin to adjust your seasoning at this point.
If you find the bean stock to be too watery as the beans are reaching a finished stage, add a butter roux, which is 2 parts butter to 1 part flour. Cook in a separate skillet until golden, then stir it into the beans. It will thicken pretty quickly.
Are you ready to serve? Do this:
- add a green salad and fresh fruit on the side.
- I like to serve the beans over buttered and seasoned rice, but I’m from deep south Louisiana and we put rice on the plate no matter what was served, so that is your choice. It does make for some comforting food and they say beans and rice combined make the complete protein. Turns out you can only get complete protein from meat, but the fiction seems to make our vegetarian friends happy, so what can it hurt to pretend?
- garnish the beans as you dish them up with either fresh green onions or parsley, or both.
Bon appetit! Your diners will be amazed by the virtuous bean dinner.