Saturday, December 15, 2012

You don't know beans

Henry David Thoreau, on the grounds that he didn't know beans, planted, tended, harvested, and ate a whole lot of them while he was living near Walden pond. While I may not have grown them (yet), I do feel that I've known them pretty well from the kitchen side of things.

I suspect that anyone who's been cooking for an appreciable amount of time understands that there are "Recipes As Written" and then there are "Recipes as Lived." There's what the book says and there's what we do. This is so true of the way that I cook beans that even my biggest mistakes are now basically part of the process. So I offer to you my own step-by-step directions--how I make beans. The Platonic form of this recipe comes from Nourishing Traditions.

1. Soak beans in water overnight, 12-24 hours. Usually closer to 12, or 8, because of when I remember to start soaking them. Agonize over whether to use tap water or filtered water, but always choose tap water because it's a pain in the butt to filter that much water.

2. Drain the water (see, aren't you glad you didn't filter all that water just to dump it later?). Rinse the beans several times, still with tap water, because it's still a pain to do otherwise. When the water is more or less clear, go ahead and go to the trouble of getting enough filtered water together to cover the beans. Turn the burner on to high and keep adding water as it slowly makes its way through the filter.

3. Because water takes so damned long to boil, put a lid on your pot. Because water takes so damned long to boil, wander away and do something productive with your time.

4. Forget about the beans completely until you can hear the sound of water boiling over. By the time you get to the beans, there will be nasty bean water all over your stove. Unless you want to have a disgusting mess later when it dries, you should clean up the mess now. But then, you should also be skimming off the foam, so figure out your priorities.

5. Lower the heat to as low as it will go while still simmering. Come back periodically for the next several hours to fiddle with it, as you realize that the burner is too low to keep it simmering or so high that it's basically a rapid boil.

6. While you're fiddling with the heat, you may also want to make sure that there's enough water in with the beans, unless you would prefer to have the beans turn into a scorched mess at the bottom of your pan, which is not only one of the worst things you will ever try to clean up in your kitchen, but also renders all that time you spent on steps 1-5 completely useless. But hey, if that's how you roll, go for it.

7. Beans are done when you say they're done. That might be 4 hours later, that might be 8 hours later. You're the cook here, you decide. Bean appetit!

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