Dorrie Berkowitz is a freelance editor and writer. She is a veteran CSA member who lives in Whitestone with her husband and a very large cat, and she loves to cook for family and friends. And yes, she gets a bean share.
Black, merlot, kidney, pinto, navy…and the list goes on. Pink or spotted, red or white, each little bean is a tasty morsel of healthful eating. And when you get a whole bowl o’ beans, you’re looking at a mighty big punch of nutrition.
Look at these stats* for the basic red kidney bean: 1 cup has only 219 calories and 16 grams of protein. They’re very low in sodium and have no cholesterol (unless, of course, you throw in a big handful of shredded cheddar). Other types of beans come in with similar numbers. No wonder beans make such a great foundation for a Meatless Monday meal.
You may ask, “Do my kidney beans start out red?” The short answer is, “Yes.” The best way to start a bean plant is to use, well, a bean. You probably did this in kindergarten: Took a bean, put it in a Dixie cup full of soil, watered it, and waited for it to sprout. (Ha! Bean sprouts! But a caution – do not eat uncooked kidney beans, sprouted or not!)
In grown-up world, farmers plant those beans directly into the ground. Since most bean varieties grow as bushes, they’re able to be grown in containers, too. Wherever they grow, however, they need lots of sun but not a lot of water, because they have a very shallow root structure. As the plants grow, the (green) bean pods develop, and the beans mature inside. When the (green) pods are very dry to the touch and the beans inside feel hard, it’s time to harvest. Carefully open the (green) pods for the big reveal: red kidney beans!
You may now be asking, “To soak or not to soak?” There’s the overnight soak and the quick soak. Now the trend is leaning toward not soaking some beans — such as black beans — at all. A recent article by J. Kenji-Lopez at Serious Eats discusses the whole soak/no soak issue, as well as the salt/don’t salt dilemma. [Full disclosure: I’m a soaker and a salter.] IMHO, the benefit of soaking is that I can soak a whole bag of beans and, after I drain the soaking water, I can pack one or two cups of soaked beans into little sandwich bags and throw them in the freezer. Then I can pull out a bag when I want to use it, and the cooking time is only about 20 minutes at a high simmer. NOTE: Dried beans will not be as soft as the canned beans. They should be al dente, not mushy.
Our CSA beans — even the Great Northern beans — are grown way out west in Idaho, at Purcell Mountain Farms. While they sell many other products, it’s well worth your time to take a tour of their 115(!) different bean selections (purcellmountainfarms.com).
Here’s another thing about cooking beans: Season, season, season! Salt the water and be sure to add some garlic cloves, a whole onion, and even a carrot or two. Those little bitty beans will soak up all that big flavor and be extra-delicious.
Try some of these bean-a-rific ideas:
· Saute onions, mushrooms, and zucchini until just soft. Season with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper. Add about 2 cups of tomato sauce and 1 cup of soaked beans (white beans are especially nice). Cover and cook at a high simmer for about 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste.
· Take 1 or 2 cups of cooked, cooled beans (merlot or pinto beans work well), toss with your favorite vinaigrette (bottled is fine – no shame!), add diced red onion, celery, and shredded carrot. Let it sit for about 15 minutes and then enjoy.
Embrace the bean!