How To Have Beans For Dinner


Okay, so this isn't really a recipe, it's just some thoughts about beans, and about how good they are. Recently I said to Ben, "If you could only eat one regular food--not, like, sushi or lobster--every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?" And he said, "I'm not sure. Maybe pasta or something like Caesar salad. Are you thinking beans?" And yes I was. I was thinking beans. Because they are so good that I can sit down to a bowl of plain, perfectly cooked pintos and say aloud, completely serious, "If I got this in a restaurant, I'd be thrilled." And then I get the that's-nice-mom-shhh-there-there smiles from the kids, the kids who say, genuinely, "These are great beans," but who might not be inclined do a series of cheering back handsprings about them.

Birdy's beans.We eat beans at least once a week, often in dishes like tamale pie or tacos or soup, or with brown rice, but also very often just plain, with some fresh bread or buttered toast or tortillas on the side and, maybe, a salad. But here's the thing: the beans have to be nice and tender, they have to be salted, and you have to put out pretty little bowls of toppings, which is the thing that makes everyone feel like they got to have their perfect plate of food.

Were you wondering about the pink blur?This does not need to be fancy! Things I typically put out:
good olive oil for drizzling (usually I just drizzle it as I'm serving the beans)diced white or red onionhot sauce (Smoked Tabasco is a current favorite around here)jarred pickled jalapeno slicesarugula leaves or cilantro or slivered cabbagediced avocado (if we have it, which is only sometimes)lime wedgescrumbled Feta (or other grated cheese, but the salty crumbles of Feta really are perfect)And then the beans themselves, which are usually pinto beans, because they are the best beans in the whole world: creamy and delicious, with an almost bacon-ish flavor that I find totally irresistible. Plus, they're full of protein and vitamins and antioxidants. If you're using canned beans, plan on two cans, warm them in their liquid, and then drain them well before drizzling them with olive oil. But if you can get your mind around cooking your own dried beans, then do.
Ben's beans.I cook a pound of beans at a time: I pick through them haphazardly to get out stones and shrively beans and old coins, etc., then generously cover them with water in a large pot (or my pressure cooker, more on that in a minute), add a tablespoon of salt and an optional sprig of marjoram, and bring the whole thing to a boil. Heat off, cover, let the beans soak for an hour or more, and then cook them. If you're boiling them, then go ahead and bring them to a boil and then cook them, covered, at a simmer until they're tender, between 45 minutes and 11 years. (I am aware of the controversy over salting your beans before cooking: this is another reason to get a pressure cooker, since un-tender beans will be just a dim memory.)
Beautiful, unadorned beans. I fish them out of the pot with a slotted spoon, but then I usually end up spooning up the bean juice and eating that too. Should I write a book called The Pinto Bean Diet? But really, you should get a pressure cooker. I swear I don't work for Presto--although I should, because there are no how-to videos on their site. But you can always go to youtube and watch one, and see people with various regional American accents preparing corned beef or black beans or lamb shanks, and you will feel Very Informed and Slightly Bored. Also, you will plainly see that there are no explosions. One thing I recommend, though, is keeping notes about cooking times inside the cover of your pressure cooker guide, because they are nothing like what the guide says ("unsoaked pinto beans" are done in "3-6 minutes" only if you're tripping and think the chalky inside of a bean better connects your living self to the earth's very crust). I pressure-cook soaked pintos for 8 minutes and let the pressure release naturally, and they are perfect every time. Black beans, however, I cook for only 6 minutes, and soaked large limas for, get this, 3! And chickpeas for 10. You need to add a tablespoon of olive oil or lard to the pot before you bring it to pressure (this keeps the bean skins from clogging the vent--not that there would be an explosion if they did). Measure leftovers and freeze them in labeled jars. This is all of my bean advice.
But really, I just love the beans.