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January 2012

Food for Thought

Beans, Beautiful Beans
By Lorinda

Food for Thought archive

Click here for this month's printable recipes


Lovely dry beans (from top: Great Northern, Black, Pinto, Small Red)
form the base of delicious, nutritional meals.


It is January, and the seed catalogs are flooding in. This is the month that I plot and plan, creating the perfect garden on a spreadsheet, in tidy little rows with just the right amount of space between the happy little plants. In the rosy glow of garden dreams it is easy to get carried away and purchase more seeds than I need.

The angel on one shoulder reminds me of my intention to be practical and only order the varieties that have done well in the past. The devil on the other shoulder is pointing out all of the vegetables labeled "New for 2012!" Danger lights are flashing.

Seed catalogs offer enticing choices. Perhaps too many.

I really am going to try to stick to the basics for most of the vegetables, with one exception: I intend to focus on growing an abundance of dry beans. I have several trustworthy favorites, but want to try a large selection of new varieties just for fun.

Beans are nutritious, inexpensive, filling, and full of protein. They contain no cholesterol (unless you dump grated cheese over them) and very little fat. They are full of fiber, may help to stabilize blood sugar, lower cholesterol, or lower the risk of cancer. The more colorful they are (think red kidney beans) the more antioxidants they have. And they are satisfying and versatile.

Dry beans are probably my favorite thing to grow each year. You plant them, water them, and wait until they all die back, then pick them all at once! If the pods are brown and dry and you can bite on a bean without denting it, they're ready to go. It just doesn't get easier than that. When you pop open a crispy little pod there are all these beautiful beans snuggled in there, ready to be scooped out. If they are totally dry, you can try shelling them by putting them in a pillowcase and stomping on them, but since there's no rush to remove the beans from the pods, I set them aside and wait for a cozy winter night (or two) and shell them while watching television.

Black Turtle beans peek out of their pod.

The beans will last a year or more if dried well and stored in airtight containers in a cool location. Seeing a row of containers filled with colorful beans satisfies my squirrel instincts and gives me that "food security" comfort.

The basics (Mexican Red, Black Turtle, Pinto, Great Northern) are must-haves for me. But there are some unique varieties of dry beans you may have never seen. There are Soldier Beans, with spots that look like little toy soldiers; Calypso, which are black and white like a yin-yang symbol; Jacob's Cattle, with beautiful burgundy speckles, or beautiful red Vermont Cranberry beans. You may find them too pretty to eat. If so, check out this website where they turn corn and beans into jewelry: Saverine Creek Heirlooms.

If you want to try growing your own dry beans and don't have much space, I would try the unusual varieties. You can always buy bags of the more common beans at the grocery store for little money, so go for the beautiful and unusual! Here is a link to an excellent website about growing beans: Salt Spring Seeds.

Most seed catalogs offer basic dry beans, and some people are successful planting beans from the store, but for cheap thrills, check out these websites:

Vermont Bean Seed Company

Seed Savers Exchange

The best part of growing beans (besides smugly running my fingers through bowls of them) is being able to cook hearty, delicious meals with a minimal amount of ingredients. I like to soak beans overnight, cook them the next day, mix them with rice, and freeze the mixture in small bags to use in a variety of dishes. Add some to a little leftover chicken, toss in some taco seasoning, and wrap it all up in a warm tortilla. Use some to round out a soup or casserole. Mix it into sautéed veggies.

If your New Year's resolution includes getting healthier or watching your budget, get those beans soaking and . . .

make a big pot of CHILI!



Click here to print these recipes.




2 pounds dry beans (I use kidney, red, black, and pinto. Any combination works)
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced (you can use canned, or none at all if you prefer)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 pounds hamburger
1 large onion, chopped
1 can (29 ounces) tomato puree
2 cans petite-cut tomatoes in sauce
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking cocoa
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons bottled chipotle sauce
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

  1. Soak the beans in a large stockpot for at least six hours (or overnight), using three times as much cold water as beans. I like to change the water at least twice.
  2. Drain the beans and refill pot with fresh cold water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until the beans are fork tender. For home-grown beans this may take less than an hour. Older beans will take longer to cook. Test often to avoid mushy chili! Drain the beans into a colander and return to the pot, but don't put it back on the heat yet.
  3. In a skillet with a little oil or butter, sauté the mushrooms and garlic lightly and add to the bean pot. Add the hamburger to the skillet and brown, adding the chopped onions when most of the pink is gone from the meat. Brown thoroughly. Add to pot.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for at least an hour to blend the flavors.

Note: Everyone has a "secret" ingredient they add to chili to make it their own. I like to add a couple of tablespoons of Kahlua. (Not so secret now, huh?)


What good is chili without some cornbread? Here is my favorite recipe.


1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup oil (I like to use peanut oil, but any vegetable oil will do)
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons butter

Place 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Once the oven is heated:

  1. Mix first 5 ingredients together in medium bowl.
  2. In small bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, and oil until thoroughly blended. Add the buttermilk and mix well.
  3. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, just until evenly moistened.
  4. Carefully remove skillet from the oven and set on a heat-proof surface. Add the butter to the heated skillet and swirl briefly to melt. Quickly pour the batter into the skillet and return to oven.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes, until golden brown on the top with crusty brown sides.

Note: A cast iron skillet makes all the difference when you're trying to achieve a light cornbread with crusty sides. If you don't have one, you can substitute a heavy casserole dish. But keep your eyes open—you can find cast iron skillets at yard sales and thrift stores that just need a little tender loving care.


Contact Lorinda at lorindamckinnon@gmail.com

Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.


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