Story and Photography by Lori Ross
As a child in New Hampshire, the advent of Spring was marked by the family tradition of sugaring off. In late March, my father and I would take wooden buckets and hammer in hand to tap the two huge maple trees that dwarfed our Civil War era home. We’d check the buckets each day to collect and strain the clear sap which my Mother slowly boiled down to make sweet, golden maple syrup. Once the sap had run, we’d celebrate by pouring some of the warm maple syrup onto a big bowl of fresh clean snow to make maple taffy. The rest of the maple syrup we used throughout the year on pancakes, crepes, ice cream and in our own version of Maple Baked Beans.
Beans were a religious ritual in my family! Every Friday morning, my Mother would soak the small white navy beans in water for the whole day and on Friday evening she’d fill her ancient bean pot with salt pork, maple syrup, dry mustard, (other ingredients) and the soaked and rinsed beans. Throughout the night, the beans would cook at very low temperature (250-300 degrees) and release a fragrance that made our mouths water. We couldn’t wait to have our Saturday evening feast of maple baked beans, brown bread and ham. We had no fear of burning the beans (or the house for that matter) by keeping the oven on overnight because, my father always said: “Mary, the Blessed Mother, is watching over the beans.”
We also made pea soup with the ham bone from Saturday night dinners for a mid-week treat and after we visited Washington, DC in the early 1960s and had the famous Bean Soup in the Senate dining room, we added Senate Bean Soup to our repertoire.
My affection for beans only increased and broadened as I got older. As a college student, I spent a summer in Europe and tasted wonderful chickpeas in garlic and oil in Greece; small round green lentils in mustard vinaigrette, celadon-colored flageolet beans and rich cassoulets in France; and white beans cooked in oil and flavored with sage in the Austrian Tyrol. A few years later, a graduate school colleague from India introduced me to the wonders of curry and dal using a variety of different colored lentils and a Brazilian student to the national dish – feijoada – that featured huge bowls of black beans with various types of meat complemented by greens, sliced oranges and rice.
In the mid-1990s Martha Stewart’s magazine featured an article about heirloom beans of the American continent and I ordered some to try – huge potato-flavored Aztec beans; pretty Yin-Yang and painted pony beans and scarlet runner beans…almost too pretty to eat! I was in bean heaven!
However, the love of my life and most of my friends did not share this passion for beans and I found myself seeking out new and better recipes to convert them to legume-lovers. Starting with the ever present, albeit delicious hummus and bean dips, I progressively expanded their bean world to the delights of Aztec beans with cilantro pesto, flageolets in herb cream sauce, Texas caviar, pickled lupini beans in antipasto, Tuscan beans cooked in garlic and sage, drunken painted pony beans and, the piece de resistance – white beans with goat cheese that even little children love!
I love beans on the boat – dried or canned, they last forever. If you don’t feel like soaking and cooking dry beans, canned beans can be just as good if rinsed and drained and lightly cooked.
Beans can be served hot, warm or cool and they have a nice taste of their own and also carry off seasonings well. The can compliment a main courses or in the case of rich cassoulet, feijoada or Tuscan beans, they can be a course unto themselves. Frozen beans taste fresh and light and cook up nicely (and quickly) for convenient meals. Beans are also filling, you can stretch your meal with them if unexpected guests arrive. And, if you really want something fresh, you can sprout some beans - (which ones?) to make crunchy curly salads, sandwich fillings and garnishes.
Beans can be easily transformed into new dishes – the chickpea salad becomes hummous the next day; drunken beans fill tacos and quesadillas; Tuscan beans become a hearty pasta fagioli (pasta and bean soup) for a hot meal on a chilly day; black bean soup becomes spicy black bean sauce for enchiladas and flageolets becomes a delicate cream soup as a first course. And beans are low fat, high fiber and nutritious because they are the edible seeds of a pod plant.
Beans have long been part of human history. The Roman term legumen from which legume is derived comes from lego which means to gather or select. Beans, peas and lentils were among early man’s original crop. When hunter-gatherers stopped roaming they planted peas and beans. The earliest evidence of peas was found in an excavation near Myanmar and Thailand and has been carbon-dated to 9750 BC. Lentils appear in the Middle East in 6750 BC while fava, chickpeas and broad beans were found in Egyptian tombs 4,000 years ago. Soybeans were cultivated in China in 1500 BC and bean crops dating back to 7000 BC are found in Mexico and Peru. Beans are even featured in the Old Testament!
The big three types of beans are soybeans, haricots and fava. Soybeans are used widely in Asia for sprouts, tofu, soy milk, soy noodles, oil and fermented soybean sauces like soy and miso . Haricots are the New World beans that grow on vines along the ground or creep up a pole. They range from the thin, tender French haricot verts which is meant to be eaten fresh, pod and all to the giant, fat pods of runner beans such as kidney, black beans, pinto, navy, Great northern, soldier, rice beans, and limas. Fava or broad beans were more popular in Europe and found in Neolithic settlements as far north as Scotland and Sweden.
Beans also have also been invested with supernatural power – Egyptians believed they help convey the soul to heaven; Romans believed the souls of the departed resided in beans and that the eating of beans was blasphemy – even flatulence cause by eating beans was thought to be evidence that one had eaten a living soul!
Buying and storing beans
Canned beans are the longest lasting you can buy for storage on your boat. Store the cans upside down to distribute any thick residue and rinse off the canned beans before using them so they taste fresher. My favorite canned beans are: DaVinci, Goya and S&W white, kidney, black beans, favas and chickpeas. I have also recently tasted Progresso cannelloni beans which are very good.
Dried beans should ideally be used within a year or they may take forever to cook. Stored in a plastic sack or canister and kept dry, there is little danger that they will sprout or become wormy. I like most dried beans but I wouldn’t bother with chickpeas or favas because they require you peel the skins off once cooked. Frozen beans are good for 6 months or so and like most frozen items, can develop freezer burn after that time. I like soybeans, baby limas and butter beans the best.
I often cook dry beans ahead of time and freeze them to go on the boat. Typically, I rinse them, put them in a pot of water (to cover beans by 2 inches) bring them to a quick boil and then take them off the heat but keep them covered for one hour. Then I drain the water, rinse the beans and add fresh cooking water or stock and the flavorings and cook the beans until tender (usually 1-2 hours). Then proceed with the recipe.
Alternatively, you may used canned beans, which are already cooked, in place of dried beans. However, you must be careful not to cook them very long or they will burst and become mushy.
Frozen beans which are already blanched can also be used, but think of them more like fresh beans…cook just a little until tender and make sure not to overcook them.
The flatulence factor
This quick soaking functions to reduce your cooking time but more importantly, if reduces the risk of flatulence by leaching the oliogosaccharides into the soaking water…so don’t reuse like most frozen items, can develop freezer burn after that time. I like soybeans, baby limas and butter beans the best.
Alternatively, a fabulous product called BEANO if used before partaking of legumes whether de-gassed or not, will go far to prevent flatulence.
Maple Baked Beans
½ pound navy or other small beans or 4 cups canned beans
1 cup onion chopped
2/3 cup maple syrup
7 oz. salt pork, ham, or bacon
1 tsp dry mustard
4 cups water
2 tsps salt and 1 ½ tsps pepper
Heat oven to 300 degrees
If using dried beans, place in heavy pot with enough water to cover beans. Bring water to boil, then strain and rinse beans and return to pot with fresh water. Drain beans
Put half of the beans in bean pot or covered ovenproof dish. Add the ham, salt pork or bacon, mustard onion and bay leaf, then the rest of the beans. Add the maple syrup, then cover with water. Cover the pot, and put it in the oven. Bake for 2-3 hours, checking beans every hour or so to be sure they are still covered in liquid; replenish liquid if it gets below beans. Remove the lid for the last hour of cooking if there is lots of liquid on top of the beans. Once cooked, add salt to taste and serve warm with lots of fresh ground pepper. These can also be simmered on the stove top for 2 hours until beans are tender.
If using canned beans, open and rinse canned beans and add to pot once onion is tender. Heat gently for 5-10 minutes and add salt to taste. Add seasonings and heat gently for 30 minutes.
Cuban Black Beans
This is basically black beans with sofrito…delicious!
1 lb dried black beans or 8 cups canned white beans
1/3 cup olive oil
1 med. Onion diced
2 scallions minced
4 cloves garlic minced
1 bell pepper seeded and diced
1 fresh jalapeno seeded and minced (any color or half red/half greed)
1 tomato chopped or 1 Tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsps red wine vinegar
1 tbsp each of dried oregano and ground cumin
3 tbsps of chopped cilantro or parsley
1 tbsp salt and 2 tsps pepper
If using dried beans, place in heavy pot with enough water to cover beans. Bring water to boil, then strain and rinse beans and return to pot with fresh water. Cover and simmer gently for 1 and1/4 hour until skins are soft but beans retain their shape. Add salt to taste during last 10 minutes of cooking. Drain.
If using canned beans, proceed with recipe below
Make the sofrito:
Heat oil in skillet over med-high heat. Add onion, scallions, garlic, peppers and sauté for 7 minutes stirring often. Stir in chopped tomato and vinegar with remaining spices and herbs. Reduce to medium and cook 5 minutes more, Remove from heat.
Add cooked beans to sofrito and simmer uncovered until the mixture becomes thick (20-30 minutes). Serve beans at once or cool then reheat later.
White Bean and Goat Cheese (can be served warm or cold)
1 lb. dried white beans or 8 cups canned white beans
6 cups chicken stock
3 carrots sliced in 2 “ pieces
2 bay leaves
If using dried beans, place in heavy pot with enough water to cover beans. Bring water to boil, then strain and rinse beans and return to pot with fresh water. Add stock, carrots, bay leaf. Cover and simmer gently for 1 hour until skins are soft but beans retain their shape. Add salt to taste during last 10 minutes of cooking. Drain.
If using canned beans, heat half the oil in a heavy pot; sauté onion, carrots, bay left until tender in 1 Tbsp of oil. Meanwhile open and rinse canned beans and add to pot once onion is tender. Heat gently for 5-10 minutes and add salt to taste.
Sauce: Mix the following and add to warm drained white beans
2 cloves garlic minced
1 ½ tablesppons grainy Dijon mustard
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 cup olive oil
Salt to taste
Add the following to beans and toss to combine well:
1 medium red onion, chopped
12 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
½ cup pine nuts toasted
1 bunch parsley chopped
Serve warm or room temperature.
Curried Carrots and Lentils – serves 4
Quick and easy microwave dish that can also be made on the stove top. Serve with lamb, chicken or seafood curry.
½ cup dried lentils (red are nice but any color will do)
1 1/2 cups water
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 2” pieces
½ cup chopped onion
¼ cup raisins
2 tbsps butter
¾ tsp curry powder
½ tsp fennel seed (optional)
2 tbsps of orange juice or other sweet fruit juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine lentils and ½ cup water in microwave-safe casserole – cook covered at full power 5 minutes (if you don’t have a carousel, rotate)
Stir in carrots and another ½ cup water and cover; cook for 5 minutes
Stir in remaining ½ cup water and all other ingredients, cook 5 minutes
Variation: on the stove top, cook lentils for 10 minutes, then add carrots and cook another10 minutes, add seasoning and cook until carrots and lentils are tender.
White Beans with Sage – serves 4-6
½ lb. dried navy or cannellini beans or 4 cups canned cannellini beans
½ onion chopped
6 cloves garlic whole
8 fresh sage leaves
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper
If using dried beans, place in heavy pot with enough water to cover beans. Bring water to boil, then strain and rinse beans and return to pot with fresh water. Add onion, garlic, sage, and half the oil. Cover and bring to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until beans are tender 45 minutes or so.
If using canned beans, heat half the oil in a heavy pot;, sauté onion, half the sage and whole garlic until tender. Meanwhile open and rinse canned beans and add to pot once garlic and onion are tender. Heat gently for 5-10 minutes.
Cool the beans and strain. Transfer to mixing bowl and chop remaining sage into beans and add remaining oil. Season with salt and pepper and stir gently. Serve warm or room temperature.
Beans with Salsa Verde
This recipe can be made with just about any bean, however, heirloom white Aztec beans are the best because they are large, white and similar in texture to a potato when cooked.
½ lb cups dried or 4 cups canned white or other bean
½ chopped onion
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme or ¼ tsp dried thyme
2 garlic cloves
If using dried beans, place in heavy pot with enough water to cover beans. Bring water to boil, then strain and rinse beans and return to pot with fresh water. Add onion, bay leaf, thyme and garlic. Cover and simmer gently for 1 hour until skins are sof but beans retain their shape. Add salt to taste during last 10 minutes of cooking. Drain.
If using canned beans, heat half the oil in a heavy pot; sauté onion, garlic, thyme and bay left until tender Meanwhile open and rinse canned beans and add to pot once garlic and onion are tender. Heat gently for 5-10 minutes and add salt to taste.
½ cup olive oil
½ cup parsley chopped
2 tsps each of: fresh rosemary, thyme, mint or oregano
2 tsps chopped capers
½ tsp chopped anchovy
½ tsp hot chile (caribe, jalapeno, Serrano)
1/8 cup finely chopped onion, scallion or shallot
Lemon juice or red wine vinegar to taste
Salt and pepper
Mix all ingredients together. Spoon sauce over warm beans. Serve warm or room temperature.