I didn't grow up eating a lot of beans. I think my mom thought they were too time-consuming to cook (and so did I having experienced the nightmare of stale Goya beans languishing on the shelf at the local grocery store - slow to cook and mushy in texture once cooked). I've discovered the pleasures of great beans as an adult. I like them best by themselves - as a side dish or as a main dish with rice, simply prepared so you can really taste them.
I was introduced to a terrific little company, Rancho Gordo, from California that concentrates on heirloom beans. They have a constantly evolving menu of dried beans that are as much a delight to the eyes as to the palette. They all look like jewels to me and I find myself selecting them more on the basis of appearance than on the description of their taste (since they're all yummy anyway). The flavor and texture of these beans is unlike any you will find sitting around (endlessly) on the shelf of a conventional supermarket. I ordered a batch last year that I gave out as holiday goodies and recently ordered another batch just for us since the recent change in weather is starting to make it feel like bean-eating season.
Rancho Gordo is slightly off-beat and irreverent. They publish a blog that has recipe suggestions and more commentary on the beans they collect and develop. The descriptions on their site are irresistible. One particularly beautiful black bean is described as: "an oddly beautiful bean that looks as if someone went at it with an airbrush. When cooked, it's a firm, whole brown bean with a slight fudge texture and piney flavor. It's very rich, so prepare simply."
The cooking instructions that arrive with the beans are spot on (see mom, not so hard!).
Check beans for small debris and rinse in cool, fresh water. Cover beans with two inches of water and soak for 4-6 hours.
In a large pot sauté finely chopped onion; celery, carrot and garlic (or any combination you prefer) in olive oil until soft. Add beans and water- and make sure beans ore covered by at least one inch of water. Bring to a hard boil for five minutes and then reduce to a gentle simmer. Once soft, add salt. Beans can take from one to three hours to cook. Slow and low is best!
More about beans:
Do not add acids (tomatoes, vinegar) or sugars until the beans ore just tender, as they can toughen the beans. You can replace some of the cooking water with beer or stock. Bay leaves are nice, as well as ham bones or smoked turkey legs. But in general, fresh, heirloom beans need little help.
If you need to add more water as the beans are cooking, only add warm water from a kettle. Cold water can harden the beans, and hot tap water is not good for you or your taste buds.
Some people believe that changing the soaking water will help alleviate the "gas" problem for which beans are famous. Some people believe you throw out some vitamins and goodness when you do this. Epazote, a culinary herb, is said to help. This makes more gastronomic sense than throwing out the soaking water. Research reaches no definitive conclusions. From my experience, the best way to help with the gas is to eat more beans.
My husband, who is a bean fanatic, got very excited when he saw our box arrive in the mail. We're having them for dinner as an accompaniment to fish tomorrow.
P.S. The vegetable in the photo on the left is kohlrabi and has absolutely nothing to do with this post other than the fact that I saw some at the market and thought it would make a nice color-based diptych with my beans. I have absolutely no idea what to do with Kohlrabi - any ideas, please send them my way!