Today marks a critical point in the preservation — or, if the preservation goes poorly, then in the frittering away — of sanity. My sanity, to begin with. But possibly yours, too. Isn’t that why we get along so well?
For one thing, it’s raining that lackadaisical sort of rain that almost dares you to give it a reason to stop, not that it would care if you did. Maybe more to the point, Cope has been away on business since last Friday, and I’ve been damn lazy about seeking out companionship of an over-six-year-old variety. Spending uninterrupted time nestled in my own head can be creatively productive for about 36 hours, after which it rarely leads to anything good. It leads to a lot of borderline-medicable ideas starting to look like good ideas, but that’s a different point entirely. With all the self-referential reality in the air, it almost feels like a day to work on a novel, but then there’s nothing like a novel that gets cataloged against the writer’s intention in the teen romance, talking animals, or psychotic thriller section to derail any hint of a future career right out of the gate.
And that is why today is a critical day. Instead of lilting off the path into the fairy woodland, I’m screwing my head on perfectly straight and marching to the beat of the same drummer — the one no one ever makes metaphors about. I’m accomplishing tasks that unequivocally point toward the middle of the road. Fried eggs for breakfast. Lifting weights. Listening to my classic rock Pandora station. Reading beyond the cover of The Economist. Straightening up the kitchen. And writing about dried beans. Because, lordy-loo, in all the world there is nothing less likely to lift a girl off her feet in a flight of fancy than writing about dried beans. No question about that.
Staying grounded isn’t the only reason I’m writing about dried beans. Between feeding a vegetarian husband, performing sun salutations in the general direction of Michael Pollan, and being secretly enamored with the likes of Tim Ferriss and Gary Taubes (more on that last bit another time), I traffic in a lot of beans. Sometimes I talk about beans more than I mean to. And sometimes people ask polite follow-up questions, like how do you cook your beans, and can I get the recipe for those refried beans. Yes, in fact, you can.
Sure, you can buy beans in a can, and some of the time we do. But if you want to hook yourself up with serious heirloom varieties like the beauty queens in the picture, avoid the risk of chemical additives in can liners, and generally reap more fabulousness per square bite of beanage, then dried is the way to go. And cooking a pot of beans on a Sunday to use throughout the week or freeze is truly easy. You should try it.
How to Cook a Pound of Dried Beans
1. Rinse. Pour a pound of dried beans into a colander. Pick out any non-beanlike matter, such as small stones. Rinse under running water for 30 seconds or so.
2. Soak. In a medium pot, cover the beans by a couple of inches with cold water. Then, either (a) leave overnight or (b) bring to a boil, immediately turn off the heat, and leave for one hour. Pour the beans into a colander, discarding the soaking liquid. Rinse beans thoroughly.
3. Boil. Return beans to the pot. Cover by a couple of inches with cold water. Add one onion, skin on, cut into quarters, one carrot, cut into thirds, one bay leaf, one clove of garlic, smashed, and one teaspoon salt. (If you’ve heard that cooking beans with salt makes them tough, think carefully about whether you heard it from an old wife. It’s not true.) Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer. Cook until just tender. Cooking time depends on the size and age of the beans, but start testing at 45 minutes.
4. Store. Once beans have cooled, discard the onion, carrot, bay leaf and garlic. You can store beans in the fridge right in their covered pot with the cooking liquid for up to a week. Or drain them and store in an airtight container. Or even drain and freeze by the portion for up to three months.
Makes 12 servings. Great for a party, or to freeze in single portions, or to eat for breakfast under a couple of fried eggs.
1/3 cup olive oil or bacon fat
1 large white onion or 2 medium yellow onions, finely diced
2 poblano peppers, finely diced
8 garlic cloves, chopped
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound dried pinto beans, cooked per instructions above until very tender (about one hour)
1. In a 5-quart Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the diced onion and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until starting to soften, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute. Add the tomato paste, cumin, chili powder, and salt. Cook, stirring, for one minute.
2. Add the beans along with 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes. Add up to 1/2 cup more water if the beans become too dry. Then, using a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon, mash the beans until only about 1/4 of the beans remain intact. Serve hot.