Sunday, December 29, 2013

Pot of Beans for New Year's--Good Luck for 2014!

Pintos garnished with plain Greek yogurt and Frontera salsa
This is a favorite pot of "good luck" beans I'm reposting for New Year's.  Invite a friend, put on a movie, and enjoy a wonderful pot of healthy, inexpensive goodness.  If you have a slow-cooker, all the better!  Nobody available?  Cook them anyway.   Enjoy the movie and freeze a few containers for lunches.

When I was a kid, a pot of beans sounded nasty to me.  It smacked of nothing to do out in the country (except make a pot of beans) and I didn't particularly like the taste of beans--particularly pintos.  My parents grew all kinds of vegetables and they were fond of many sorts of beans and peas; our neighbors were of a similar ilk.  Married during the depression, but first raised on or near the farm, they all knew every trick for saving money on food.  Moving to the big city, they searched for a piece of land out a ways in order to plant that garden every year.  (Weed, can, water, repeat.)

Fast forward to me at nearly 30 a thousand miles away.  A sweet older woman across the street bringing me a small pot of pinto beans with a little hamburger mixed in.  Inward sigh. (Beans.) I was just learning about Salade Nicoise, lady.  Outward toothy-fake smile. (Thank YOU!!!)  Until a bit later when I grudgingly ladled up a bowl for myself and good grief!  What was this?  These beans were wonderful; they were comfort food extraordinaire.  They were just like my mom made.  They were just like my neighbor at home made.  I yelled to Dave, "Come eat some beans; these are so good!"  "Beans?"  "Beans."  Dave ate and ate.  Me, too. Call to the cook, "What did you put in those beans?"  "Nothing but water and salt and pepper; I fried the hamburger up later and threw it in.  I guess you could put in some onion if you wanted." 

Water?  Salt, pepper?  Those ingredients weren't possible, were they?  30 years later, I'm still making those beans.  I have made them in lots of ways. 

  • If I'm feeling like working hard on my chili, I make some the day before the chili gets made.  
  • If I'm dying for cornbread, I might make some beans to go with it--and the butter and honey.
  • If I'm making Huevos Rancheros, I definitely save some to mash for my huevos y tortillas.
  • If I'm feeling virtuous, I'll cook a pot of brown rice with cilantro to eat with my beans.

I often put in a little bit more than water, pepper and-not-til-the-end, salt. (Salt while cooking toughens beans.)   But sometimes I just cook them almost au natural.  Which is what you can also do with navy or cannellini beans if using them as a bed for fish, as a mash for crostini, or in a stew. 

And, just because it's fun to know:   there's no reason to soak beans.  Or even quick soak them.  Makes no difference at all to my mind and I've done it all ways.   Just clean them well in a colander and make sure there's no tiny stones or bad beans in them; they're dried outdoors in the sun.  Then cook them.  Like this:

Pot of Pinto Beans
                           yes, virginia, you could make chili with them, but 
                           they're so good all alone
                                             8 servings

  • 1 pound dry pinto beans, clean and picked over for stones and dirt
  • water
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • piece of ham hock or 2-3 pieces bacon, chopped
  • Tabasco (3-4 good shakes) or a pinch of crushed red pepper or a whole jalapeno, if you like
  • Kosher salt 
  • 1# ground beef, optional
  • Possible Garnishes:  Chopped onion, green onions, grated cheddar, sour cream, plain yogurt, salsa, etc.

Put your clean beans in a big pot (8-12 quarts) and fill it with water 1/2-2/3 full (depending on the size of your pot) or until the beans are covered very well and there's still lots of water left.  Add the onion, garlic, hock/bacon, and a couple of dashes of Tabasco (or red pepper or jalapeno.)  

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and cook until the beans are tender--1 1/2 - 2 hours.  Don't rush the cooking; the beans will fall apart and lose their skins. 

Once the beans are quite tender,  season well with salt to taste (start with 1/2 teaspoon) and add more pepper if you like.  Even another dash of tabasco is fine.

You can also cook them in the crock-pot; it takes at least 4 hours at sea level, but people leave them to cook all day.   At altitude, you'll need to cook them an hour on the stove before putting them in the crock pot all day. 

Ground beef:  In a 12" skillet, heated over medium heat, break ground beef up into chunks.  Cook, stirring often, until beef is browned and no pink is showing.  Drain well and add to cooked beans.

 If you have a nice cold beer, or a bottle of Cotes du Rhone (red) wine, you'll be all set.

If you'd like a regular pot of bean soup instead, click here for my recipe.

Happy New Year!

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