David and I have the best visits with my brother Sam and his family, when we just drop in on them. They live and farm in Underwood, Washington. Sam spreads a vibe of pleasant productivity and there is a pattern of work, chatter, and eating that feels nourishing to be around. Last weekend when we dropped by, Sam was busy shelling beans from his garden. His patio was covered with wire racks full of different kinds of fresh dried shell beans. They all looked alike from the outside but once the brittle shell was shed, their distinctive, vibrant insides appeared. Sam ordered these heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo
in Napa, California. They sport colorful names like cranberry beans, yellow-eye beans, Christmas limas, and yellow Indian woman beans (I said colorful, not politically correct). The wire racks were stacked up and separated by variety; it was clear Sam was working on an efficient system but had tired of the project. He told me we could take home whatever I shelled. We set right to work.
Tonight I'm going to cook the cranberry beans that Sam gave us. It's 5:20 p.m. I have not started and they are not soaking. And we will eat tonight and long before midnight. One of the best food realizations I have had this year is that fresh-dried shell beans are superior. Not only do these beans cook quickly, they don't require soaking and they taste great. The less you do to them, the better. I know "fresh-dried" sounds like a contradiction, but once you've had them you will realize why I call them that. They are dried beans, but they have just dried and are still fresh. The moisture still in the bean means they cook fast. That said, I do need to get them cooking.
Dice and sauté a medium-sized white onion in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Make sure to salt the onions and take your time to caramelize the onions before you add diced garlic. When the garlic has cooked, add 3 cups of water (every bone in my body wants to use stock, but I know when the beans are this good it's only gilding the lily) and a cup of fresh-dried beans. Bring the pot to a full boil then turn it down to a simmer. Check the pot every now and again. It really stinks when you burn beans. Add more water if it gets dry at all. In about an hour taste the beans. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook until they are tender. Enjoy as a main course with rice or tortillas or as a side dish. I'm having a lamb burger and my pescatarian mate, David, will be enjoying a yummy fish sandwich. We'll both enjoy a large serving of beans on the side.
Tomorrow I promise I'll talk about baking.