Saturday, January 9, 2010

Beans, Beans, Beans

part 1: about beans

What a morning this is! I mean, what a morning this really is! My beans arrived last night. A great big hill of beans in a flat-rate box, right there in my front hallway. This morning I busted them open. I hunted down my French pocket knife and busted them open.

I suppose I should start with the obvious: beans are totally beautiful. As objects, they are beautiful. A single bean is beautiful, and a pile of beans is beautiful. I am not saying this because I had a beautiful phone conversation this morning, and I am not saying this because my expatriate, best friend is coming today, too. I am singing the praises of beans because any fool can look at their speckled and streaked, and spotty, and perfectly curved little bodies and know that the world is capable of producing marvels--and we have not even cooked them yet! We have not even begun to talk about what beans really are, about how versatile they are, about what beans really do, for us and for themselves, there is so much.

This is how I started my morning, a frothing pot of beans. Last night, before I discovered the mountain of beans in the flat-rate box (and here I begin talking about cooking), I put a pot of beans on the stove to soak overnight. If you want beans tomorrow, think about them today. That, my friends, is an original quote. Keep it in mind. You will be seeing it spangled all over the billboards of the future. You see, because, in the future, the world will run on beans. Beans will power the senate and beans will power our cars. When we are in love, we will sleep on the little, white eyes of beans and dream, and when we are lonesome and weary, we will curl up and be comforted by their slender arches. Beans, my friends, will provide for us. But I was talking about cooking.

If you want beans tomorrow, think about them today. I thought about beans yesterday. I went into my pantry and selected some nice, maroon kidney beans. I dumped them into a pie plate and sorted through them, dump by dump, looking for little stones, little clumps of dried mud, moldy beans, anything that I did not want in my pot. Then into the pot of water they went. And onto them went the cold water, and then a rinse, and then another rinse---rinse rinse rinse---and then to bed. I put on a movie about Mama Roma's struggle to raise her son against the hard odds of post-war Rome while my dry beans swelled. Then I went to bed myself.

part 2: cooking beans

So you've soaked your beans overnight. Good. That's done. Now it's morning, or the middle of the day, or whatever---it doesn't really matter if you over-soak your beans; just don't under-soak them---and now you've got a pot full of swollen beans and a bunch of bean-juice infused water. Don't pitch that water down the rat hole! Save it. It's valuable. It's nutrient rich. It will give you the most horrendous gas, but your houseplants don't get flatulent. If you have houseplants, pour your bean soaking water into a jug. Then water your plants with it. They'll love it. It's just another side-marvel of beans.

Some people like to add a commercial product called Bean-O to their beans when cooking them. It's supposed to make them less, uh, aggressive. I don't use it. I just make sure to thoroughly rinse my beans after I've drained them, and then, once I've covered them with fresh water, I add one bay leaf and two cloves of garlic that I've whacked with the side of my knife. Maybe some crushed black pepper, too. Whatever I add, I DO NOT ADD SALT. If you add salt to your beans before they are fully cooked, you will ruin them. The salt will turn their skins leathery. You don't want to eat leather, you want to eat beans.

So now you are ready to cook them. Bring your beans to a full boil (see the frothy business above); let them boil for a bit, and then reduce the heat to a simmer. I tend to cook them at a very low simmer because, if you cook them in water that is simmering too vigorously, you will bust their perfect shapes. You'll get good flavor, but poor shape. So cook them low.

Stir your beans periodically, and check them every once in a while for doneness. Spellchecker says "doneness" ain't a word, but I say spellchecker is full of beans. Anyway, when your beans are fully cooked, gradually add some salt. Bit by bit, add your salt. When your beans taste perfect, lid them and let them cool. You can use them immediately or store them in lidded jars in the fridge. Properly salted beans will keep for about a week.


Doug said...

I can't believe this post doesn't have the song about the musical fruit.

Vlado&Toni said...

hello there, just got here randomly through the next blog post.. i think your post is so funny yet witty, you seem to be in love with beans :) funny, i was just looking at them this afternoon and got fascinated with them at the shop.

Dr. Crowbar said...

I always have about 20 pounds of various beans at hand at all times.