Dried beans: Why not?

P1000167One night, my 4-year-old was watching an episode of Sesame Street. Following a segment where a Cuban-American boy described his family dinner, he turned to me and said, “Mom, I want rice and beans.”

Now, I had cooked us rice and beans plenty in the past, and they always went untouched by him. But I learned long ago that pointing this sort of thing out is a lose-lose tactic. Instead, I decided to call his bluff, and started soaking some black-eyed peas for the next night’s dinner.

Cooking with dried beans is one of those things that seems intimidating to anyone with a busy life outside the home—the opposite of me. I admittedly have the luxury of being able to put a pot on the simmer and be around the house to tend to it, but I still think dried beans are in the realm of possibility for those who work outside the home. Of course, you have to remember to soak, but that only requires dumping the beans in a bowl and covering with several inches of water the night before. It takes about 15 seconds and makes you feel like a rockstar for planning ahead. But the flavor of freshly-cooked dried beans is incomparable—they’re creamy, yet firm, and taste less one-note, which is to say, salty, than canned beans. And if you’ve ever been weirded out by the whole BPA in cans thing, here’s one more place where you can shed your cans.

I know cannellinis have been everybody’s darlings for several decades now, and kidney beans, black beans, and chickpeas are ubiquitous; but for quick-cooking, you can’t beat a black-eyed pea (coincidentally also one of my favorites). I have cooked up a batch of these in 30 minutes, although it can certainly take longer—plan on an hour of simmering for these, and be pleasantly surprised if it goes faster. Are you the type who forgets to soak? Keep lots of lentils on hand—no need to pre-soak, and they cook in about 30 minutes. If you want one of the longer-cooking beans, just cook them on the weekend or whenever you have two hours at home. Cooked beans keep in their liquid in the fridge for at least a week.

Anyhow, for a basic rice-and-beans, I have evolved this quick technique, which is certainly not authentic to any particular country, but has been a hit when others have tasted it. Once the beans are cooked, sautee a few cloves of garlic in generous olive oil, then add the beans with some salt. Sautee for a minute or two, then add an obscene amount of smoked paprika (pimenton), and continue to stir so that the spice gets a little toasted in the oil, too. Add a small amount of some sort of tomatoes—cut up, fresh, cherry, canned, whatever—and simmer until it thickens a bit, just a few minutes. Add some Mexican oregano, which, yes, is different from your standard oregano, and particularly suits this dish, and taste and add more salt or paprika, along with some freshly-ground black pepper. Serve like a stew, over some Goya-type white rice.

My husband and I typically doctor ours with whatever we have on hand—chopped onion, avocado, hot sauce, sour cream. A fried egg on top turns it incredibly stick-to-your-ribs, if you’re dining with someone who is unconvinced that a dinner of rice and beans will fill them up. But for my son that night, as I was totally skeptical that he would even taste it, I just put a little bit of rice in a bowl with some beans over it. I mean, the Sesame Street had been the night before—no longer fresh in his mind. I was sure that the romance of the moment had passed.

Well, imagine my surprise when he tasted it, and said, “Where are the pork chops?” Right. I had forgotten about the whole rest of the Cuban meal. But he was undeterred—he ate several bowls, and has eaten it since, even without the pork chops.


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