When I was a little girl, my paternal grandmother had a sewing basket that she kept in the enclosed back porch of her Chicago home. Inexplicably, at the bottom of the basket — alongside the needles, thread, and darning egg — were more than a dozen shiny marbles, each different from the other. I couldn’t wait to hold each one up to the light and admire its size, shape, color, and unique design. Each year, when cranberry beans come into season, I am reminded of the surprise I experienced when I first found the precious and beautiful little objects in such an unpredictable place.
The lambshank was cut osso buco style. The cranberry beans were freshly shelled. The swiss chard was ruby red. The three ingredients cried out to be married in a single bowl, with little more than a bit of red wine and mire poix. And we cried out in delight when we ate them.
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never given much thought to how chick peas — also known as garbanzo beans — come into the world. For most of us, we are familiar with them only once their dried and put in a bag or cooked and put in a can. You may be surprised, then, to learn that they come into the world the way most humans do — alone. Unlike other legumes, most chick peas come in their own little pod. I guess that means they don’t fight much with their siblings while they’re growing up.
I often hear that cooking real food is too expensive. Of course, even if it were true that unprocessed ingredients were more expensive, such a broad statement overlooks the high cost to environmental and human health of eating processed foods. But, that aside, one of the ways I ensure that our food budget remains manageable is by frequently featuring dried beans as the entrée. Pinto beans, cranberry beans, navy beans, tiger eye beans, Jacob’s cattle beans, and scarlet runner beans all appear on our plates throughout the year. One of our favorites, though, is black beans. I soak them overnight in the refrigerator, and then simmer them for an hour or so with chopped onion, garlic, and jalepeno. Just before they’re finished cooking, I add a little sea salt, ground cinnamon, and cumin. At service, I top them with Greek yogurt, strips of toasted corn tortillas, julienned radishes, and chopped cilantro. At the height of summer, I replace the radishes with fresh diced peaches, a surprisingly delicious compliment to the spicy beans. No matter how you decide to prepare them, remember that dried beans are easy, affordable, healthy, and environmentally responsible. So eat some beans and feel good . . . and good about yourself.