Tuesday, March 20, 2012

the many many beans of Crescent Dragonwagon

I know, I know, I can’t seem to get shut of beans! And, really, why try! Pennies per serving, a talent for being transmogrified (and Eastery kind of word, don't you think?) by olive oil or chilis, beans are versatile and delicious and there are times in one’s life when they demand to be the main show in town!

Not feeling the enthusiasm? Pick up Crescent Dragonwagon’s new book, Bean by Bean – yes, I mentioned it in my last column – and work your pleasurable way through it. Subtitled “More than 175 recipes for fresh beans, dried beans, cool beans, hot beans, savory beans, even sweet beans,” it’s a go-to book for everything from hummus to chili to dessert.

Crescent’s name is not only striking but familiar – I must have begun hearing it when she published her first bean book, back in the ‘70s. Or was it The Commune Cookbook way back then, too? Certainly her Cornbread Gospels is a name familiar, as is Dragon’s own – familiar AND unforgettable! Audacious.
Although I’ve never met Crescent, I know she lives in Westminster West now and regularly traverses the co-ops and farmers’ markets, art galleries and grocery stores in that area. And, because we are Facebook friends, I am recipient (along with nineteen hundred and fifty other ‘friends’) of her many involved and interesting status updates from which we’ve been able to follow the finishing and publishing of this book, her visits to her famous mother, THE Charlotte Zolotov of children’s literature, and Crescent’s own leadership of Fearless Writing Workshops. We ‘friends’ have gotten to know her husbands (late and present), her cats, and her ponds, what she’s had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, what time she goes to bed, and wakes up, and what she considers a strong way of life, which must include walks, work-outs, yoga, and naps. Generous she is about her life. Transparent.

Her writing style is warmth personified, sometimes lyrical, her vocabulary colorful, her recipes imaginative. Savor this: Tanzanian Black-Eyed Pea & Coconut Soup... with Bananas! Doesn’t that sound wonderful? But never fear, the book is also a complete and well-organized compendium of beany dishes from hummous through soups, stews, chilis and salads (Yes! nothing better than cold white beans with fresh sage, olive oil and garlic sprinkled over), all the way to desserts – she is proud of her  Rose of Persia Cake.
In my last column I told you I would post her recipe for Chile Mole on my blog. Instead I decided to give it to you up-front and here it is. I was about to say that you would not find a call-out for chili powder in this recipe, because the long list of spices and seeds preclude it, but... there it is, 1 tablespoon of hot chili powder after the chilis, cumin, coriander, oregano have been added. Well, Dragon, I guess I’ll have to add idiosyncratic to my list of descriptives!

(I’ve left this recipe almost entirely in Crescent’s words and formats. The “fixins” she speaks of are any garnishes you like – cheese, sour cream, avocados, salsa, raw onion, cilantro...)
 CD’s Chili Mole
Serves 8 to 10 with Fixins

If you’ve gotten a little bored with the regular old bowl of red, try this. It’s pronounced “MO-lay,” as in the famed Mexican sauce, not “mole” as in little pesky animals who leave holes in your lawn. This is a superb chili. Its taste is indefinable and elusive, its texture decidedly rich. Although you can certainly serve Chili Mole with all the traditional Fixins, it works beautifully served in a more minimalist style, the better to approach the complex parade of flavors that rolls over your tongue with each bite. Please promise me you won’t be put off by the length of the ingredients list—it’s mostly spices—or the seeming peculiarity of some of the ingredients: This is one you will not want to miss. Note: I adore the crunch of the occasional whole coriander seed in the finished chili. If you don’t, omit the coriander seeds, or use 1½ teaspoons ground coriander instead.

For the beans:
  • 1 pound dried black beans, picked over, rinsed, and soaked overnight
  • 2½ to 3 quarts any well-flavored vegetable stock (or a 12-ounce bottle of beer plus enough water or vegetable stock to make up the difference)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 ancho chile, stemmed
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3  cup dark raisins (I like monukkas)
For the sauté:
  • Vegetable oil cooking spray
  •  ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeds left in for heat or removed for mildness, chopped
  • 1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  •  ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon aniseed
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Tiny pinch of ground cloves
  • 2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika (if desired, ½ teaspoon can be smoked)
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili powder
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
For the finish:
  • 1 can (16 ounces) chopped tomatoes in juice
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 to 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, diced
  • 2 tablespoons creamy, natural, unhydrogenated peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (or 2 tablespoons freshly toasted sesame seeds)
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo, stemmed, with 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey (optional)
1. Drain the soaked black beans and rinse them well. Place them in a large, heavy pot and add enough stock to cover them to a depth of 1½ inches. Add the bay leaves, ancho chile, jalapeño, and lots and lots of freshly ground black pepper (you can hardly add too much). Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1 hour. Lift the lid and add the raisins. Continue cooking until the beans are nearly tender and the raisins have more or less disintegrated, 30 to 60 minutes more.

2. Meanwhile, about 20 minutes or so before the beans are done, spray a large, heavy skillet with oil. Place it over medium heat, add the olive oil and, when it’s hot, the onions. Sauté the onions until they start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper, jalapeño, and poblano and sauté for another 2 minutes. Then add all the remaining spices, lower the heat slightly, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until it just becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove the sauté from the heat.

3. Scrape the sauté into the simmering beans. Deglaze the pan with a little bean stock, stirring to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return this liquid to the beans.

4. Add the tomatoes and the tomato paste to the bean pot, and stir well. Simmer for another 10 minutes, then maintain at a low simmer while you continue with the recipe.

5. Place the chocolate, peanut butter, tahini, and chipotle in adobo in a food processor. Add a generous ladleful of the simmering beans (including the whole ancho and jalapeño, if you can find them), and buzz to make a thick, highly seasoned paste. Scrape this into the bean pot, turn the heat down as low as possible, and add salt to taste—it will take quite a bit. Simmer slowly, partially covered, until the seasonings are well blended, about 20 minutes longer.

6. Just before serving, pick out the bay leaves and the ancho stem. If you like, mash a couple of ladlefuls of the beans against the sides of the pot to thicken the chili slightly. Taste for seasonings: You want heat (perhaps a little more cayenne or adobo), richness (more chocolate), a little sweetness (add agave syrup as needed). Serve, with the optional Fixins, right away, or let it come to room temperature, then refrigerate it, covered, overnight and reheat it very, very gently (or in a slow-cooker) the next day. (It’s much better after an overnight in the fridge.)
Thank you, Crescent! Bean by Bean is a lovely, complete, energetic, beautifully rendered book!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

honing in on the bean

Eating a low carb diet can be heart-breaking when you have a yen for beans, because beans, though excellent food, are not low-carb by any stretch of the imagination. But virtuous? Oh Man, are they virtuous! Full of vitamins and proteins and all kinds of good things. They even nourish the soil they grow in, setting nitrogen, if you remember. And they can be eaten sprouted or fermented, fresh and green or dried; of some you can even eat the leaves – think peas, which are beans, or legumes. Peanuts are, too.

So it was that I was fascinated when I stopped by Ryan Yoder’s stand last week at the Rutland Winter Farmers’ Market where another customer told me that his wife was on a so-called Slow-Carb Diet that included lots of beans as well as (grass-fed or pastured) beef and even pork, and chicken, and cruciferous vegetables, but not many greens,  because apparently olden people did not, really, eat many greens. And olden people were not fat, either, nor did they have cavities or tumors or fibrillations of their hearts or needy kidneys. “It’s a bit of the paleo diet,” he told me, and as well he said said wife had apparently lost sixty or so pounds in a matter of weeks, or at least months, by eating lots of beans and beef, as many as she wanted to, as a matter of fact.

When I googled this so-called “Slow-Carb” diet it seems to be based upon a book called The 4-Hour Body, by Timothy Ferriss and it makes remarkable claims, none of which I quite believe. One of the tenets of it is that you can have one day a week to eat all the white things and sugar that you want to, so many, in fact, that you would not want to look a white thing in the face for the next six days, at which time you were not only free, but encouraged, to eat them all over again. Think Mashed potatoes and Cherry Garcia Ice Cream.

I ran across this memorable quote from one of its fans:  “Just for fun, another reason to avoid the whities: chlorine dioxide, one of the chemicals used to bleach flour (even if later made brown again, a common trick), combines with residual protein in most of these foods to form alloxan. Researchers use alloxan in lab rats to induce diabetes. That's right-it's used to produce diabetes. This is bad news if you eat anything white or "enriched."

Well, be that as it may...

The reason I was stopping by Yoder’s booth is that they – Ryan and Rachel – grow a lovely variety of beans, all of which are freshly grown and dried this year, and they also grow two delicious and effective varieties of popcorn, with which I keep myself supplied all year. Too, I wanted to stock up on his little round black Coco beans, first because they are really good and second because Ryan doesn’t think they’ll grow them again because they are so difficult to shuck, to thresh, to pick over, and all that must be done to get them to your kitchen. I also wanted to pick up a supply of  his King of the Norths for their very nice beany taste. Yum.

The fact that Yoder’s beans are fresh this year means that they will cook up to a nice texture, their taste is much better than old beans, and they have fewer of the fartiness chemicals that are sometimes associated with beans. So there.  (For more in-depth explanations of beans, their history, their various uses, etcetera, etcetera, pick up Crescent Dragonwagon’s new book, Bean by Bean. It is fabulous!) Look for her mole (MO-lay) recipe at the end of this post. Or maybe I'll make it a separate post.

One of the nicest things about beans is how easy they are to prepare. Simply pick them over in the evening, cover them with water and soak them overnight and until you want to cook them. At which point, drain them, put them in a pan with some water (2 cups of beans equals about a pound and require about 6 cups of water). Add a bay leaf. Bring them to a boil, turn the heat down to medium low and let them simmer. Fresh dried beans will probably take about 45 minutes to an hour to cook. I salt them when they are almost done cooking.

Often I cook them with a beef shank, which is just a section of beef leg about 1 ½ inches thick, a bone with some meat on it. I put that into a pan and cover it with 7 cups of water, bring it to a boil, turn the heat down and simmer it for an hour before I add the beans. Cook the beans the way I told you above. And then there is:


Pick through 2 cups of black beans and remove any stones or ugly beans.  Soak them overnight. Drain them in the morning, add 6 cups of water, one chopped onion, a sprig of epazote and a few tablespoons of lard (Mangalitza if you can get it) or bacon drippings. Bring to a boil, cover, turn the heat down and simmer for a couple of hours until the beans are tender.  Remove the epazote, stir in a teaspoon of salt, a very healthy glug of cream sherry, a few splashes of soy sauce and another splash of balsamic vinegar.  Taste for seasoning.  These will keep in the refrigerator for a week - but mine never last that long.

Note: Epazote is a Mexican herb that we can grow right here in our gardens. I do. It looks a lot like ragweed and it tastes bitter but imparts a recognizable Mexican taste that some of us long for.
Now, some of you might be wondering if I’m going to give you a recipe for sweet baked beans. Not really!
Sweet baked beans seems kind of perverse now. I do have a recipe that is most like the baked beans I grew up on, which involves a great deal of granulated sugar. I made them last summer and they made my teeth itch with their sweetness.

Because, to my present taste, sweet, smoky, hot and sour is a nicer way of putting it, where a bit of maple syrup nudges beans toward the sublime, coupling sexily with bacon smoke and unctuous fat, with a nice smoked jalapeno (chipotle), and a bitsy sprinkle of  pungent cider vinegar showered over it at the end to tame the various unions from fierce to fancy. Yes, that’s where I’d go if I were, like a bird-dog, honing in on the real sense of beans.

About that word “hone”, before some of you get to the chase, claiming that it should be “home in” of all ridiculous things, let me just say that I am older than most of you and from the time I was a tiny child I have been hearing and even saying the phrase, “Honing in on...” some kind of prey. That’s because to find something difficult you must hone, or sharpen, your senses to the object of your quest. Your gaze starts wide and discards non-essentials as it narrows, and sharpens (you hone a knife), and then finally hones in on that cowering little rabbit. Or whatever. Our original ‘hone’ had nothing to do with ‘home’. It was wild and of the country, of darkness all around and skies full of immense mystery. It was not suburban. It was not village nor town nor city.

But perhaps you are unaware of this controversy in a bean pot? I asked Leo about it and he’d never heard of “homing in”. “That’s ridiculous,” he said, “Of course it’s ‘hone in’!”

So just eat your beans, and never mind!