Dry beans are incredibly versatile, and all have more or less the same methods of cookery behind them.
This summer I’ve been growing beans for drying, a pair of interesting heirloom varietals. Clearly, in my garden, the genetics of the black beans were dominant, as I’ve gotten to nearly a quart of harvested beans removed from their pods. It’s remarkably rewarding to have the harvest so visibly stored away, and there’s a lot of pods yet to harvest on the bean plants, representing at least another pint of beans …
Dry beans are incredibly versatile, and all have more or less the same methods of cookery behind them; the major variation simply being how long it takes to cook them; Pressure cookers will reduce the time greatly and are a boon to those who eat beans (and other long-cooked foods) regularly. Older beans will take longer to cook fully (which we define as squishably soft, but not falling apart of their own volition) while fresh beans will take less time.
Stewed Black Beans with Tomatoes and Mushrooms
Yield: 6-8 portions as a side dish, 4 as a main item
- 1 cup dry black beans, sorted and rinsed (make sure there are no stones in your pot of food!)
- 4 Tbsp. olive oil, plus more as needed
- 1 cup yellow onion, diced
- ½ cup carrot, diced
- ½ cup celery, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated in hot water and sliced
- 1 sprig thyme
- 8-10 stems’ worth of parsley leaves, chopped roughly, stems retained
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 1 pint grape, cherry or teardrop tomatoes (smallish is the goal), sliced in half
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Kosher salt
Soaking your beans isn’t strictly necessary, but it will help facilitate even and speedy cooking. After rinsing and sorting the beans, cover them with at least a quart of water, and let them sit on the counter or in the fridge, covered, until needed.
Soak the mushrooms about an hour before they’re needed. As you prepare to cut them, strain the liquid they soaked in through a coffee filter, and save it for later. There should be at least 1-2 cups of water remaining from the soaking.
As you prepare to cook this dish, strain all the soaking liquid off the beans, and set them aside; discard this soaking liquid.
In a large, heavy-bottomed cooking pot (a French oven or something of the sort), heat the oil over medium-high heat, and when it’s shimmering, add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook until the onion begins to become translucent and softens slightly, maybe 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, another 3-5 minutes at most. Add the mushrooms and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.
Pour the reserved, strained liquid from the mushrooms into the pot, and then add the beans. Pour over water to cover by about an inch, and add the thyme, parsley stems, bay leaves, honey and several good grinds of black pepper.
Fiddle with your stove to bring the beans to a gentle simmer and hold them there at a simmer to cook until they’re done (squishably soft, but not falling apart.) This might be as little as 1 hour, or as much as 5, depending on your beans. Stir occasionally and check after 45 minutes to see how tender the beans have gotten, sampling periodically until you’re satisfied. Add liquid if needed.
As the beans begin to reach their desired doneness, check the liquid levels carefully; you don’t want to have a black bean soup here, but rather something approaching baked bean consistency. As the beans finish cooking, stir in the sliced tomatoes, and let the heat of the cooked beans begin to break them down. Let this cook for about 5 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper to taste, and fold in the chopped parsley leaves. Serve hot as a side vegetable, or over grits or polenta as a main course. Enjoy!
Chef Aaron blogs on the Facebook page of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. Reprinted with permission.