19 February 2009

Heirloom Beans

You can read as much as you want about how freshly dried beans are better than steak, how they are worth ordering from Rancho Gordo farm in the mail because of how they make a sort of a gravy...but you really probably won't believe a word of it until you actually get some and cook them up with garlic and eat them yourself.

Two nights ago, using up the nubs and ends of the aging vegetables in our refrigerator I wanted to try a soup in the new Bon Appetit: Chicken and White Bean with herb swirl. Sadly I was out of white beans and not so sadly, I'm vegetarian. But we had some Christmas beans stashed away and so making accommodations, I proceeded to get on with some soup thusly:

We've been making stock lately from scraps of whatever we're cutting, doctored if needed with some vegan chicken broth powder and that was the base for this soup. But to begin I sauteed some fresh herbs: sage, parsley and thyme in olive oil until fragrant a la the bon appetit recipe and reserved the drizzle for the aforementioned swirl. Then I browned some faux fowl* and removed this from the pan for later too. Next I took the beans and put them in the same pot with some water and some smashed garlic, a bay leaf and some salt and pepper. I let these simmer, uncovered for almost an hour. They were fresh dried beans meaning you don't need a pressure cooker or a whole day to cook them, you can really just throw them in and leave them for an hour and they'll be good.

I took the beans out of the pot when they'd reached an acceptable softness with any liquid they let off and then threw in carrots and celery to brown in that very same pot. I waited til these were nicely colored and then added some of that stock (which was simmering all along!) to the pot to deglaze and added the beans back in to cook a few more minutes, along with some cabbage, some chili flakes and a 1/4 a cup of tomato paste and let them mix and mellow just a bit.

I added the faux fowl back in at the last minute and threw the herb swirl into the soup itself against orders; I decided that serving a swirl was too silly for my taste. So we dished the stuff up with a dollop of sour cream on top instead.

Well! Now having only just finished the last of it, those beans were the crown and glory of the whole soup. A wholly different thing than that BA recipe, my soup came out dark and brown and roasty, with notes of cinnamon, though I hadn't added any, and a thick broth that coats the tongue like a robust gravy. The pictures don't do much justice as the steam from the soup on the stove was tormenting my camera.

Christmas beans are speckled purple and white and I traded for some at a farmer's market (when I still worked at one) and they aren't cheap. But they are worth it, leaps and bounds above any dried beans you could buy in a plastic bag. Reading the Rancho Gordo website, you can even plant any of the beans they send you and grow some for yourself. Or you could order heirloom bean seeds from a seed seller. It is getting on seeding season, you know.

*we rather like certain soy products like this, though compared with the very natural elements in this soup I would skip this next time. It sticks out among the other flavors and in the end, it didn't need anything like chicken.

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