Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Heirloom Beans

My basic philosophy on cooking beans

beans beans the musical fruit
the more you eat the more you toot
the more you  toot the happier you feel
beans beans they're good for your heart
so eat your beans at every meal

Beans are amazing. Dry, they store for years, add water they expand, cook them and if they’re an heirloom variety you’re in for a treat. Cayuga Farms, in upstate NY grows several varieties but my favorite is their black beans. They’re the most flavorful black beans I’ve ever eaten. Something about them tastes like they’ve been grown with a ham hock ~ great if you’re a vegetarian who craves the flavor of pork. My next favorite is from a company called Rancho Gordo. Located in Napa, Rancho Gordo works with 4 farms in Northern California and one in Fresno. Every year the crop is different. You might not be able to buy the same beans year after year but there’s always something new and amazing to try. One of my favorites is Yellow Indian Woman. Unfortunately last years’ crop failed so I had to try some new varieties, like the dense rich creamy Borloti or the amazing Runner Cannellini ~ like no white bean you’ve ever had!

I prefer dense, creamy beans that hold their shape as opposed to starchy beans that have a texture similar to potatoes. But whatever your preference, find a cooking method that works best for you. There are several different cooking methods, one calls for cooking in the soaking liquid some call for long and slow etc., etc.  I’m only going to talk about my method because it always works and as Rancho Gordo's Heirloom Bean cookbook says (in so many words), if your cooking method works, stick with it!

Since the heirloom beans I buy come in pound bags, I tend to either soak ½ a bag of beans or the full pound. The directions below are for either amount.

  1. Soak fresh beans in cold water (filtered, if possible) for at least 8 hours or overnight in a bowl that holds 4 times the volume of the beans.

Older beans may need to soak for up to 24 hours. One easy way to tell if they’re not quite ready, the skins will look all wrinkled and crinkly which means the inside hasn’t swelled enough to fill its skin.

If your beans are very dusty and dirty, rinse them thoroughly before soaking and pick through for any little stones. Be especially careful if you're cooking black beans or very small beans, as it is harder to see the stones.

  1. After soaking ~ I always rinse and drain the beans (discarding the soaking liquid) through a strainer using cold water. Soaking not only drastically reduces the cooking time but helps to remove the indigestible complex sugars (oligosaccharides) from the outer coating of the beans as well as removing tannins, phytic acid and tryspin inhibitors. It’s those pesky oligosaccharides that cause abdominal issues…

Soaking beans overnight also begins the germination process which promotes enzyme release which helps to breaks down those pesky sugars. 

  1. Next, put the beans into a deep, heavy-bottomed pot with a lid. I use Le Creusetcast iron is great as is any deep heavy pot which heats slowly and evenly. Your pot should hold two and a half times the amount of beans.
  1.  Cover with an inch of cold water.
  1. Bring to a Boil.
    I use a variation of the “Shock Method” to cook my beans. There are several different variations on cooking beans and depending on the hardness and age of the bean I may vary my method. For the fresher Heirloom beans I prefer  the following method.

  1. Remove from heat, drain in a colander and rinse in cold water (this process of boiling and then quickly stopping the cooking process is called “Shocking”)

    Older beans and some very hard or dense beans like aduki beans may need to be shocked a second or third time, especially if they yield a lot of surface scum.

  1. Return beans to the pot, cover a second time with an inch of cold water.
    Add an approximately 1” x 2” piece of Kombu (Kombu expands to at least double when soaked with water. I use the same amount of Kombu for anywhere from 1 cup to 1 pound of beans. I suppose if I were making 5# I’d add a 1x 3 inch piece.) I believe adding the Kombu also helps to reduce gas (though this isn’t documented, it adds minerals and Umami as well).

Kombu is a type of seaweed widely used in Japanese cooking (a variety of Kombu can also be found on the Atlantic coast). It is used in the making of dashi and other Japanese broths similar to the way we use chicken stock. I don’t know where I learned this but kombu not only adds what the Japanese call umami (the other taste after sweet, salty, sour and bitter), it adds minerals that you might feel you’ve washed away by soaking or shocking. In addition it adds flavor and I also believe aids in digestion thereby once again helping to eliminate any abdominal issues. Since adopting this method of adding kombu after shocking, I’ve never had gas and none of my guests has ever complained (of intestinal distress); in fact, some have actually commented on the lack thereof.  One very important reason I stick with my tried and true method!

  1. Bring beans and Kombu to a boil, cover leaving lid slightly ajar so it doesn’t boil over and reduce cooking to a slow simmer.
    You might need to add a cup or two of cold water during the cooking so keep an eye on your beans. If you notice too much scum forming, skim it off and add a little extra water if necessary.  Occasionally I’ve cooked the liquid down to almost nothing… I add an additional cup of water and continue to simmer the beans with any additional ingredients I choose to add, this will reconstitute all that thick delicious bean goo, aka “liquid gold”. You can always reduce the liquid again if you’ve added too much, so don’t worry.

I never cook my beans in anything other than water. I believe all seasoning interferes with the even cooking of the beans and toughens their skin. Fresh beans will yield their own delicious cooking liquor. About 30 minutes into the cooking process, you can add a bay leaf or other herbs if you like, but generally I add these towards the end.

Keep in mind this is just my basic cooking method. By all means experiment and follow different recipes and stick with the ones you like best.

  1. Continue to simmer until almost done to your liking ~ until you think they're almost done about 45 minutes (though it depends on the size and hardness so it’s a general guideline. Don’t worry if your beans take a lot longer to cook.) When the beans are about 15 minutes from being fully cooked, now you can begin to add seasonings: a pinch or 3 of cumin is amazing in all kinds of beans, add some salt—I like KosherCeltic Sea Salt or Fleur de Sel. (Just don’t use an expensive finishing salt!) Start with about 1.5 teaspoons and adjust to your taste, black pepper, chili peppers, cayenne,  sautéed carrots, onions, finely minced garlic, tomato, anything you think will compliment your beans
    (There should still be liquid left in the pot that doesn't necessarily cover the beans and it will thicken as it cools.)
  1. With the addition of seasoning and vegetables continue cooking the beans until they’re tender to your liking…another 15- 25 minutes. I never remove the seaweed (but you can do so at this point if you prefer) with one exception. When I’m cooking white beans I don’t always want to see bits of seaweed floating around. Before I add any seasoning to white beans I remove the seaweed. You have to check it and catch it before it starts to disintegrate. Otherwise I let it disintegrate and incorporate into the dish. It also helps to thicken the sauce.

    If you're going to serve the beans right away adjust the seasonings and add salt, pepper, more garlic, cumin etc. if necessary.

  1. Beans are delicious with meat served on the plate, with chicken or pork roast, with an egg on top, traditionally with rice, my favorite is with short grain brown rice, or just serve them on their own.

  1. If I’m going to freeze the beans and don’t know exactly how or when I want to use them I might freeze them without adding any salt or seasoning at this point. Beans tend to absorb a lot of flavors so even if you freeze when you go to use them you might find they need additional salt or pepper to brighten the flavor.  I never discard the cooking liquid unless I’m using the beans in a salad where I wouldn’t want to incorporate any of this liquid gold.

    Most Rancho Gordo beans cook up within an hour. I’ve navigated better websites but just keep clicking on “Products” until you see a link on the left for Heirloom Beans. It’s worth suffering the frustrating website.

You can also order direct from Cayuga Farms or find them at the Union Square Farmers Market in NYC. Have Fun & Enjoy!

Rancho Gordo
1924 Yajome Street
Napa, CA 94559

Cayuga Pure Organics
18 Banks Road
Brooktondale, NY 14817