Stovetop Beans

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mimsie, my roommate extraordinaire and one of Mississippi’s finest natives, made red beans and rice a few weeks ago for dinner. With it, she reminded me how glorious a meal centered with beans can be. Her version, which is also her mom’s version, requires an eight hour preliminary water soak. This shortens the cooking time, and some say it helps the beans hold their shape as they roll through boiling water as long as they do. Mimsie told me that Monday was traditionally cleaning day in and around Louisiana, and women would make red beans and rice with Sunday’s leftover ham bones while they were home and could put on a pot to boil away all day.

Mimsie used red kidney beans, but I used pinto because I intended to serve them with homemade tortillas. After four hours on the stove without a soak, the beans were transformed. They needed only a bay leaf, some salt, a little onion, periodic stirs and replenishments of water. With that, they became the color of chocolate, tender and silky and coated in their own sumptuous sauce. The tortillas were not such a success, and so I had leftover beans and a base for this morning’s cottage-style breakfast, which would be great for lunch or dinner, also.

If you have a bag of dried beans in your pantry and running water at your disposal, you’ve got the means for dinner. I’ve read those words in a few places, and they ring with wisdom. Besides, if you’ve got the time, cooking dried beans is easy. Here’s how:

1) Spread out your beans on a clean surface and pick through, discarding any stones you might find.

2) Put beans in a colander and give them a good rinse.

3) Add a bay leaf and enough water to cover the beans by two or three inches.

4) Bring pot to a boil on your stove, then reduce the heat to medium. Check on your beans often and stir as you do – when they are no longer submerged, they need more water. Keep adding it.

5) Add half a sliced onion and salt to taste about three hours into cooking. Add less salt here, as you can always add more at the end. Test a bean by putting it between your teeth. When it yields with the softest pressure, almost as if it’s melting, your beans are ready. Eat them with rice, tortillas, chips, or nothing but a spoon.

Or with toast, sliced tomato, and a sunny-side up egg. And don’t forget the pepper! Eggs beg for cracked pepper.

Have a great week, everybody.