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Food for Thought
Beans, Beautiful Beans
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.
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.
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:
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!
2 pounds dry beans (I use kidney, red, black, and pinto. Any combination works)
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
Place 10-inch cast iron skillet in the oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Once the oven is heated:
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 openyou can find cast iron skillets at yard sales and thrift stores that just need a little tender loving care.
Contact Lorinda at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Food for Thought copyright 2013.