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:
Ruth Reichl's WONDERFUL BLACK BEANS
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.
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!