Well, so far its been a good year. I've managed to honour one of my Resolutions just days after making them- to eat more beans. I think beans are something you have to have grown up eating (I did not) or be patient with your taste buds. Eventually, you'll come to appreciate their humble appeal. During this time of proclaimed "economic uncertainty" people everywhere are talking about cooking with a budget. There are lists and articles aplenty with tips on how to stretch your dollar and eat well for less. This is proof that some of the worlds best foods are created out of poverty, peasantry, and difficult times. It is an incredibly satisfying thing to create a tasty, hearty, healthy meal for pennies a serving. Beans are a food that offer all the nutritional elements that we should be eating more of: complex carbs, vegetable protein, fiber, multitudes of vitamins. Beyond that, they are good for the earth, can be stored for years, used in countless cuisines and dishes, are easy to ship and are an affordable stable. But whatever...they are also the ultimate comfort food, can be mopped up with bread (yum!) and tasty too, which is mostly what I care about.
If you can, buy your beans somewhere that you know has a high turnover. Unfortunately, there are no labeling laws that require sellers to tell you when your beans were harvested and most often than not the beans in that bag are a mixture of harvests. This is not essential, but once you've had "last crop" beans (those that are sold within a year of harvesting them), you appreciate their tender beauty. Buy them from a farmer, ask a farmer to grow them, grow them yourself, or get them from a busy ethnic or dry goods store. Look for packages with few broken beans or cracked skins, which can also be a sign of age or poor storage.
The beans you see in the photo are my "bean babes" brought to me by a very kind Canadian living in LA. They are from the Napa valley you see. Yes normally I'm a hardcore "eat local" kind of girl, but there are some things that don't fall into that category. I am not alone in my enthusiasm for this bean producer. Rancho Gordo seems to have some enjoyed some of the "farmers are the new celebrity chefs" fame and are seen on restaurant menus throughout the US, written about all over the internet and beyond. Unfortunately, we can't get them to us in Canada, by conventional means anyway, so I came up with other ways. I still have a pretty good supply, so I use them carefully. But don't worry, you can get perfectly good beans where you shop too.
Baked beans are something I crave during the winter. There are so many variations but lately I was wanting the classic maple/Boston baked bean variety. This is my own recipe, full of sweet molasses, rich tomato paste and bright spices. Serve these in a bowl with cornbread or Irish soda bread, some coleslaw and perhaps baked squash wedges. This makes a lot which makes sense since it takes some time to make it. They will freeze with no problem and will keep in the fridge for a few days. Add some stock to leftovers for a nice soup.
Spicy Sweet Baked Beans
1 pound navy beans
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, rough chopped
8 oz pancetta, or lean bacon, thickly sliced and cubed
1 tbsp dry mustard
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
5 Tbsp tomato paste
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup dark rum
1 tsp ancho chile powder
2 tsp other dried ground chile, I used urfa biber
1/2 tsp cumin
1. Cook beans: place in large dutch oven. If you have cast iron, use it. Cover with cold water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, boil hard for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Let sit for 1 hours. Drain and rinse beans. Cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer gently but actively. Cook until just tender, about 1 hour, depending on size and age of beans. Add 2 tsp salt when they are almost "there". You want them done, but still be resistance when you bite into one. Keep watch and taste beans often. If you notice a lot falling apart, turn the heat down a bit.
2. Heat oven to 300 degrees. Drain beans and put in a bowl, reserve bean water. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in pot over medium heat. Once hot, add onion and saute until translucent. Add garlic and saute 1 minute more. Remove from pan to food processor or blender.
3. Add rest of ingredients and blend together well. Add to bowl with beans, stir gently.
4. Add chunks of bacon to bottom of pot. Pour beans over top. Top off with bean water to cover by 1 inch.
5. Place in 300 degree oven in the middle. Baked for 2-3 hours uncovered. If the beans start to show themselves too much, add more bean water a little at a time. After about 1 1/2 hours taste to adjust salty, sweet or spicy flavours to your liking. When the beans are done, crank the oven to 400. Scoop the pieces of bacon to the top of the pot and place in oven. Cook for about 5 minutes until the bacon starts to brown and crisp a bit.
6. Remove from oven, place lid on top and keep warm if needed.