If you’re like me, you’ve never met a legume you didn’t like. My love for beans is likely a product of the early ’90s, when heated hands of Go Fish were always accompanied by a giant bowl of Beanie Weenies.
As an adult, there are so many reasons to appreciate the magical fruit. Rich with protein and fiber, beans are by far the cheapest and healthiest way to enjoy a fulfilling winter meal. Beans are particularly economical and delicious when you buy them dried, although you have to be sure your source is fresh. Offered in bulk at most large supermarkets, you can shop like a high roller at the Greenlife if you utilize the bulk bins. And the best beans, selon moi, are bought dry, soaked patiently, and slowly simmered — the flavor simply cannot be beaten. Admittedly, this process takes some forethought on the cook’s behalf, but I’ve discovered that the minimal amount of planning invested is returned tenfold in the final product.
While convenient, canned beans are not ideal for a few reasons. Canned vegetables and soups of all varieties contain massive amounts of sodium. See, e.g., Bush’s Black Beans, a can of which contains roughly 60% of your recommend daily sodium intake. I find that unless I buy low sodium canned beans, the salt content detrimentally affects the taste of whatever I’m making, as the subtly of spices or the delicacy of herbs is lost in a big wet blanket of sodium. With canned products there is also the recently raised issue of BPA, a chemical compound which, depending on the expert consulted, ranges from completely harmless to a vortex of cancer in terms of its effect on the body. However, the New York Times reports that whatever the effect, canned foods contain high levels of BPA, which accumulate in the body as consumption increases. So that makes 4 reasons to buy dry, right?
These beans really don’t require a lot of work, but they do take planning and patience. I estimate 10 minutes of stove time, after which you can forget about them. My approach is to cook them on an afternoon when I’m home anyway — I distract myself with a project and a few hours later, a delicious pot of beans awaits me.
Appx. 1 pound of black beans, washed
1 medium onion, cubed
4 garlic cloves
1/2 teasp. cumin
1/2 teasp. paprika (I used sweet Spanish, but smoked would work well also)
Enough water to cover the beans by about two inches
Pickled jalapeños (optional)
After washing the beans (and checking for stones), place them in a bowl large enough to accommodate the beans and 2 quarts of water. Let them soak overnight (or 6-8 hours) in cold water. At the suggestion of a friend, I added several pickled jalapeños to the soaking water, which offered a delightfully mellow tang.
When you’re ready to cook:
Sautee onion in olive oil for about 5 minutes. You want them softened and opaque, but not browned. Stir in the garlic and sautee until fragrant.
At this point, add the spices you’re using and let them toast a little in the center of the pot. Spices like cumin and paprika really benefit from a brief stint in hot oil.
When your onion/spice mixture is very fragrant (this takes a little less than a minute), add the beans along with the soaking water. Resist the urge to salt the cooking water, though, as its addition will prolong your cooking time.
Ensure that the beans are covered by about an inch of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for an hour. After an hour, check to see that the beans still have plenty of water. Add salt, and more fresh garlic, if desired, and simmer for about another hour. Ultimately, you’ll have to taste a bean or two to ensure that they’ve reached the desired level of tenderness, but my best guess is 2 hours total. By this time, all of your patience will have yielded some top shelf beans in a dark, rich broth.
The best part about this bubbly masterpiece is that it cost all of $5 to prepare and fed us throughout the week. The beans will be delicious all on their own, but we also enjoyed them with cumin and tomato spiced brown rice, on avocado and spinach salads, and in black bean chili. Maybe its the nostalgia typing, but I bet they’d even pair well with chopped up hotdogs.