A cold January day means a hot , home cooked meal and what better than simple beans themselves. They're an easy cook and can be made a variety of ways. Best of all, they're not as challenging as some think. Any novice home chef can make them with very good results.
Melissa Clark knows this and offered her advice on them in her A Good Appetite column in today's New York Times Food section. Beans are the perfect meal for those watching their diets and budgets. They're a healthy alternative to meat along with being one of the cheapest foods to buy. Already cooked beans are also perfect for freezing for later consumption. Some home chefs prefer using the canned variety simply for convenience's sake. Don't. Buy dried beans and just let them soak.It's an old wives tale that it takes anywhere from four to twenty-four hours for a good bath . Home chefs can soak them for however long they want to.The practice does have its merits, so don't rule it out entirely. Soaking will help beans cook faster along with leaching out the sugars that can cause intestinal distress.If that's the case, then soak. Just remember to add a good tablespoon of salt to the water.It speeds up cooking by breaking down the beans' skins..Keep in mind you could wind up with old beans (many grocery stores are guilty of selling ones that are past their sell by date). Their meat may not be tender and there could be a bit of a chew to their texture.
One of the great things about beans is that they're incredibly versatile. They can be cooked up in herbs rosemary and thyme broth, or for a more flavorful dish, bay leaf, oregano or sage.Putting a bouquet garni into the pot also will yield up a flavorful dish of beans. What are known as soft herbs such as cilantro, basil , parsley and chives can be used not only for enhancing the dish but also for adding some color and decoration, Beans and spices are always a good pairing. Think cumin and coriander.for an Indian vibe. Cinnamon and allspice are out of the box suggestions but they add a kind of smoky sweetness to the dish, To get the spices' full effect, do what Ms. Clark does :toast them in the pot for a few minutes until they release an aroma before adding the beans and water.Of course, the best seasonings are the aromatics. Cooking with celery or carrots along with any of the members of the onion family such as garlic leeks and shallots to create a savory broth . Ginger gives beans a fiery kick , perfect for a cold night,Most people love adding a huge chunk of ham or bacon to any bean dish, but especially to Boston baked beans,Usually beans are served over rice but feel free to try them poured over polenta or faro.
This is bean season. Pick out whatever one looks appealing ad get creative with spices and ideas. The end result is a tasty filling dish that will warm you on a cold winter's night.