Archive for the ‘beans’ category

raiding the pantry

January 6, 2011

It’s taken me awhile to figure it out, but now I know: eating well in winter is more about planning than canning. Shell beans, winter squash, potatoes, garlic go from the ground to the pantry with no processing required. So I planted lots of them. This December, I spent more time in Roseboom than anywhere else, so it was a great opportunity to enjoy the fruits of my labors.  

I. Spicy peanut-squash stew. Hack a giant squash in two and set it to roast in the oven, along with a head or two of garlic, anointed with oil and wrapped in foil. On the stove, soften chopped onions and garlic in olive oil, then add spices (I used cumin, coriander, cayenne) and toast a bit. Scoop in some peanut butter, plus maybe a little water, and stir until melted; turn off heat. Squish the roasted garlic into the pot. When the squash is manageable, peel and chop into cubes. Add these to the pot, along with enough water to get the consistency you want. At this point you can puree into an elegant bisque-like creation (maybe add some cream or coconut milk) but I prefer a chunky, inelegant stew. It is especially good with brown rice added, but all I had was crushed wheat, and that worked pretty well. Something green added just before serving is always a good idea, and I was able to dig some kale out of the snow—at least the for the first few servings.

II. Black beans, brown beer, purple potatoes. I once read a recipe for black beans cooked in dark beer until the beans were soft and the beer reduced to a syrup. With company expected for dinner, I needed to stretch the recipe a bit, so while the beans simmered in Ommegang I sauteed onions in oil, followed by spices, then added water and some chopped purple potatoes. (Regular potatoes would work as well, but they take on an unappetizing gray color in black bean soup.) Combined the pots, added some garlic, and voila: a nice hearty supper. I also chopped up some of last summer’s dried tomatoes, added them to warm olive oil, and served on homemade bread provided by my guests.

III. Extravagant lentils. Sometime in January, my kitchen is going to be gutted. So this business of cooking from the existing larder is not just about feeding myself and avoiding the trip to the market. It’s also about spending down the stores before I have to move the contents of my kitchen into the living room. This makes me feel a lot better about decimating supplies of luxury ingredients like dried porcini mushrooms. I put them into a stew of lentils, roasted garlic, celery, and leftover red wine.

IV. Bean, tangerine…  Cook chopped-up tangerine (with peel) and onion until carmelized,then throw in some chopped ginger and red pepper flakes. Add squash seeds and cook til toasted. Green beans can go straight from the freezer to pot.

V. Nightshade elixir. Ground cherries were this year’s garden discovery. They look like small tomatillos and taste something like a tomato crossed with a pineapple. Starting in August, my one plant threw off a handful or two of ripe fruit every day. Just before the frost hit, I picked it clean, gathering more than 700 full pods, some more ripe than others. I put them in jars with vodka and honey. I’ve read that this kind of preparation should sit for six months, but I threw caution to the wind served them in shot glasses following a recent dinner. They taste like strawberries.

VI. Cornmeal mush. I’m glad the Quaker company has retained the traditional name for the most basic recipe on its cardboard canister. The Italian title may be more musical, but cornmeal mush is good enough for me. I had it for breakfast with butter and maple syrup, for lunch (after a freak thaw revealed perky greens under the snow) with kale and carmelized onions.

VII. Something Asian….ish. On New Year’s Day, my friends up the road host a party in their sweet little straw house. Guests are asked to bring an Asian dish to share. I had a few relevant ingredients on hand—a lime, ginger root, coconut, sesame seeds—but I couldn’t figure out how these might combine with the other ingredients in my winter pantry. So I mixed them up with an egg and some sugar and made macaroons.

i am my own four-year-old

September 23, 2010

Not all people get excited about a plate full of vegetables all the time.

That’s when disguises come in handy.[Recipe: Pick as many green beans as you can carry in the bottom of your t-shirt. Set a pot of water to boil. Go back outside and grab a bunch of stemmy old arugula, plus a handful of basil. Blanch the beans in boiling water, chop roughly, and throw in the blender with arugula, basil, a couple of cloves of garlic, a chunk of feta the size of an apricot (if apricots were craggy instead of round) and enough olive oil to keep things moving.]

When you’ve had enough of mock guac but still aren’t ready to face unadulterated vegetables, make pizza! Make a simple dough using a roughly 2:1 ratio of flour:water, plus some yeast and salt. Dip into those dried tomatoes you’ve been putting away and let a handful bubble in some warm olive oil. Spread the dough thin, decorate, stick in a very hot oven… and enjoy! You won’t even want dessert.

confronting the cupboard

February 22, 2010

Every winter I’ve gotten a little bit better at provisioning. I don’t find it particularly difficult to cook for one (I’ve had a lot of practice) but I do find it challenging to do it for only 2 or 3 days and have nothing left over… nothing that won’t keep until my next escape to the country, that is. Starting with my first garden I began freezing several varieties of pesto. Two summers ago, I added stewed and dried tomatoes to my repertoire. This year I stocked the larder with winter squash, many kinds of beans, even jars of pickles.

By the time I arrived at the house on Thursday evening, I already knew it was going to be a night for cranberry beans, cooked with lots of olive oil and other fragrant things. I like this preparation best with bread for sopping, but it was too late to start bread so I settled on a bed of polenta instead.

One benefit of this kind of slow-simmering meal (besides its deliciousness) is that it really warms up the house. One drawback is that, after the long drive, my belly often requires immediate attention. Usually I have some cheese or nuts around, but things were looking pretty grim… until, at the back of the refrigerator, I found a carefully wrapped half-button of goat cheese. (This was obviously the work of an overzealous helpful houseguest—I would have probably deemed the piece too small for saving and enjoyed it as my reward for cleaning the kitchen.) It was hard as a rock, but it smelled the way it should and wasn’t growing anything extra, so I shaved it thin and took a taste. Creamy taste, crackly texture—very nice with a glass of wine while the beans bubbled.

When shell beans are fresh from the garden, I will cook them in olive oil only, but because these were a little dehydrated, I first covered them with water and simmered them with a few whole cloves of garlic and some thyme branches. I never got around to cutting and drying herbs this year, but as I always say, if you can’t find thyme for the important things, you’re just not trying hard enough.

Once the beans were tender, I doused them in oil and finished over very low heat until all the water was gone, then ladled them over polenta and added a few more thyme leaves.

The next day, leftover polenta with pesto from the freezer.

And breakfast potatoes make a fine meal any time of day.

My first winter in the house, I would always arrive with groceries from the city—a few pieces of fruit, a hunk of cheese, a beautiful boule. Now I have the confidence to skip that step. When it comes to putting food by, I’m still learning, as evidenced by the occasional storage failure…

But self-sufficiency is not so much about having done something right as it is about being willing to enter into the adventure.

marfax brown

February 1, 2010

I have a thing for vegetable varieties I’ve never heard of, especially when they are supposed to be well-suited for my climate.  And a reputation for exceptional tastiness doesn’t hurt. So I had high expectations for Marfax Brown. I planted more of them than any other variety. And they did not meet my expectations. Check out the results of the fall harvest. (They’re the pretty yellow beans that barely cover the bottom of the smallest bowl.)

Given their poor yield, I had pretty much decided against planting them again next year. Tonight, however, I cooked up the entire pitiful summer 2009 crop and now… I’m wishing I kept back a few for seed. 

I brought them to a quick boil before yoga this morning, then left them to soak awhile. When I tasted one later, I was startled to find that it tasted like a cross between a bean and a boiled peanut. Hmm.

Beans are something of a blank canvas, and I tend to throw a lot of strong flavors at them.  These guys are interesting, but subtle, so it’s tricky to enhance them without overwhelming. Here’s what I came up with:

 Beanut Ginger Soup

1. Thinly slice an onion and put it in a lot of olive oil, over very low heat for a very long time, until melted but not browned. At some point, add a heap of minced fresh ginger and let it cook along with the onion.

2. Simmer the beans until tender. Add a large diced carrot, a large diced potato, a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter, some salt.

3. Once the vegetables are soft, add the onion/oil/ginger mixture and cook together a few minutes. Season to taste with salt and cayenne, and add some chopped green stuff before serving.

black, black, black is the color

December 30, 2009

Ever since my college days, I’ve had an appreciation for dried beans—at a dollar or so a bag, they provide a creative outlet for a cook AND a week’s worth of meals.

After growing them myself, I’ve moved on from appreciation to something more like reverence, and not just because they taste better when they’re only a few months old. Now I look at a 1-quart bag and I see not just a staple foodstuff but an entire row of beans that has been cultivated, harvested, hulled.

When I think of the times when I didn’t finish a bean pot before it turned—or before I just got tired of it—I’m astonished. It’s taken me this long to break into this year’s harvest because some part of me has been waiting for a special occasion—as though dinner is not occasion enough.

This is my third year planting Cranberry Beans. I also added Marfax Brown, an heirloom variety that’s supposed to do well in rough northern climates, and—on a whim—Black Turtle Beans. I didn’t expect much from the latter, as black beans are so associated with southwestern cooking. But they turned out to be my heaviest producer of the summer.

The problem with black bean soup is that the inky beans turn any other vegetable an unappetizing gray. I suppose this is why so many black bean soups in restaurants are pureed. But somehow pureed soups seem too fancy for Roseboom. I considered supping on beans alone, but then I found some purple potatoes in my pantry… the perfect solution!

While I was in Baton Rouge for the holidays, I raided my Granny’s backyard kumquat tree. (Yes, Virginia, there is citrus to be picked in Louisiana this time of year.) I used these to make a kind of chutney of sliced kumquat, onions, coriander, honey—just right for brightening all that dark earthiness.

first shell beans

September 4, 2009

I don’t know if garden hygiene is more of problem this year, what with all the damp, or whether I’m just more alert to it. In any case, last week I walked out and saw one of my cranberry bean plants beginning to collapse upon itself, so I pulled it up immediately.

Shell beans are a blessing for the gardener who wants to extend her home-grown eating over the long, cold winter. Not only are they delicious and versatile, they require almost no processing. Thus, it feels a bit like cheating your own future to eat them in full summer, before they’ve had a chance to dry out.  Best to make the most of it!

The beans made one layer on the bottom of my saucepan. I poured in enough olive oil to just cover them, then added a splash of white wine. Also three large cloves of garlic, roughly chopped. And laid a few branches of thyme on top. Then I covered the pot, turned the burner to the lowest heat possible, and left them for a little over an hour. I think of it as sort of a bean confit.

While the beans cooked, naturally, I made bread. Because I was not just having a bowl of beans for dinner, I was having a bowl of beans and olive oil, and an appropriate vehicle was needed to convey that delicious shiny stuff to my mouth.

This super-rich bean preparation cries out for a hit of lemon zest & juice before serving, but I didn’t have a lemon. I did, however, have a handful of cherry tomatoes. I placed them on top of the beans, rolled them about so they were covered all over with the now unbearably fragrant oil, then replaced the lid and let them soften. All in all, I probably let them sweat for about half an hour, occasionally rolling them so that a different surface sat in the oil. They promised to be delicious, but not particularly effective at cutting the richness. A handful of peppery old arugula solved that problem just fine.000_0882

mid-august menu

August 27, 2009

000_0871soft lettuces with nasturtium flowers and mustardy vinaigrette

roasted beets with lemon thyme, green beans and toasted walnuts

grilled scallop squash with basil, lemon zest and yellow cherry tomatoes

grilled pork chops

cheese, bread, berries

pasta with walnut sauce and today’s harvest

August 7, 2009

Cut one medium yellow squash and a fistful of green beans into bite-size pieces while boiling water for pasta. When water is at a full boil, add a couple of servings worth of dried pasta, similar in size to the vegetable pieces. Grind a large clove of garlic and a handful of walnuts with a pinch of salt. When the pasta is almost done, add vegetables to the pot. Return to boil, then drain and dump in a bowl. Cover the bottom of the pot with olive oil and turn to medium. Scrape in walnut paste. Do not clean mortar & pestle—the leftover bits will help with the next step. Chop arugula coarsely. Add half to mortar and grind, then add this to the pot. Remove sauce from heat and toss with pasta. Allow to cool for a minute or two, then add remaining arugula.000_0829

I was planning to add some shaved pecorino romano, but it smelled too good already and I was too hungry. Maybe next time.

[title of blog]

June 4, 2009


Flat bean, round bean, pink bean, brown bean

April 9, 2009

Back when I worked in an office, I used to occasionally go to an Indian place around the corner for lunch: a couple of selections, plus rice, dal and naan for about six dollars. One day, there were TWO choices of dal on the steam table. What’s the difference, I asked? Well, explained the server, this one is yellow dal and this one is black dal.

Um, thanks for clarifying.

The lentil is such a cute bean in its dried form. The pearly peachy “red” lentil, in particular, looks like something you might scatter across a frosted cupcake. So it is particularly disappointing that, when cooked, every color has the tendency to turn to a dull-colored, blah-tasting sludge. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, especially when eaten alongside something bright and complicated. But it will not do if you’re relying on the same beanpot for a week’s lunches. Here’s one attempt to create a little more interest:

Cover the bottom of a pot with olive oil and turn to medium high. Add about a tablespoon of mustard seeds, a few crushed cardamom pods, and a thin-sliced fresh jalapeno. After a few minutes, throw in a generous handful of dried unsweetened coconut. Stir until coconut is browned, then add water and a 16 oz bag of red lentils. There water should cover the lentils by about an inch, maybe a little more. Bring to a boil. Cut a large potato into half-inch chunks and add to the pot. Bring back to boil. Taste a lentil. If they are beginning to soften, add salt, then cover and take off heat. Allow to finish cooking off heat for an hour or so. Pour off extra water, if any. Then stir in juice and zest of one lemon, plus a bunch of cilantro, chopped.000_0512


I didn’t really know what to expect from the coconut. Turned out not to add much in the way of flavor, but it was a real boon in terms of texture—lots of little chewy strands running through all the sludgy softness. Still not the most attractive of dishes (maybe a little tomato paste next time for color?) but mighty tasty.