Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Dry Bean Harvest and Slow Cooker Beans

It's that time again-- all of my dry beans are now sitting in containers awaiting some quiet time to shell them. This year I was quite preoccupied in the summer, and only grew out two types of dry beans. I had scarlet runners on one of the driveway carport columns, that had returned on their own. I never got around to re-seeding the other carport columns, so unlike last year I have only about a quart worth to shell out.

In my community garden plot, I planted the back trellis heavily with true red cranberry beans. They were quite successful, and I expect to get a quart or so of them when they are all shelled.

Awareness of specialty heirloom beans has been growing, and you can easily try varieties from providers like Rancho Gordo or Phipps Country Store. Since heirloom beans don't hybridize trivially, you can save some when you cook the beans and plant them if you turn out to be very fond of that variety.

If rains threaten, remove pods from the plants, or pull the entire plant, and spread out or hang in a dry place, like a covered porch. Shell beans when the pods are dry and crackly, and beans are hard. If you can prick the skin on a shelled bean with a fingernail, it is not sufficiently dry-- spread those beans out in a single layer on a plate or a fine mesh screen and let dry for a week or two indoors, stirring and turning over daily.

I have read that large quantities of beans can be shelled out by putting in a pillowcase, tying the pillowcase closed tightly, and tumbling in a warm, not hot, clothes dryer, ideally with a couple of those spiked rubber balls used for fabric softening. I can see how this might work, but have never tried it myself-- if you have, please comment and let me know how it worked for you! In older days, folks used to put beans on a large cloth tarp at harvest festivals and someone would fiddle while folks danced, crushing the pods and threshing out the beans. Sounds very Louisa May Alcott, but YMMV and if you have a LOT of beans, get creative!

Slow-Cooker Beans

I make these almost every week for my hubby to take for lunch on workdays. I start with the basics, and add the variants. Takes just moments to set up on Sunday night, and is ready on Monday morning.

  • 3 cups dried beans
  • cover with water a little deeper than your index finger

Add any or all of the following veggies, subject to the room in your crockpot. It varies widely in flavor depending on the bean type and spicing type.

  • - chopped medium onion
  • - chopped 2 sticks celery
  • - 2 cloves peeled garlic
  • - 1/2 tsp whole mustard seed
  • - 1/2 tsp liquid smoke
  • - 1/2 - 1 tsp sea salt (to taste)
  • - 1 stalk kombucha dried seaweed
  • - 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • - 2 cups diced squash (summer or winter squash)
Now add any "filling" you may want to use to bulk up the beans into a one-pot meal. Usually we omit the filling and just eat the beans over rice or crushed organic corn chips.
  • OR a cup of dry polenta meal
  • OR a cup of rice

Now the spices! First the jazz it up spices (even tho I am a spice-wuss compared to Mike)

  • - chunk of dried chili pepper (I favor passilas or turkish alma, which I grow)
  • OR 1 -2 tsps of smoked spanish paprika, ground ancho, mole mix, or passila pepper
Western Style
  • - quarter to half tsp of good Western bean herbs: savory, sage, basil, marjoram, oregano
India/Curry Style
  • - half tsp of good Indian bean herbs: cumin, paprika, whole clove, kaffir lime leaf, fresh turmeric if you have it, dried coriander
Asian Style
  • - half tsp of Asian bean herbs: lemongrass, cilantro, green coriander berry, tarragon, a whole anise, a few cloves

If the pot is not full within an inch of the top, add water until it is.

Cook on High for 4 hours or Low 8 hours or until beans are desired softness.

Add any lemon or lime juice (Asian, Indian) or tomato paste (half a can) ONLY AFTER beans are fully cooked, as acidity keeps them from softening.

A Few Tips and Tricks

My favorite dried beans to use are kidney, black, borlotti, cranberry, anasazi, and scarlet runner. Lots of the heirloom beans have been bred for specific cooking qualities, and it can be fun and tasty to experiment with them. Anasazi beans break down partially into a creamy slurry. Kidney beans stay whole but "make their own gravy". Good Mother Stallard and Hutterite Soup beans are a soup bean which dissolves like split peas do to make a thick soup. Etc. Rancho Gordo carries many classics, as does Bob's Red Mill.

If you garden, you can save dry beans to plant. They are not generally irradiated. Since beans do not tend to hybridize easily, they are likely to grow true to type if they are an heirloom variety.

Some boring day, make up some "packets" of bean spices (I use old prescription jars) so they are mixed and ready to toss into the cooker.

On busy weeks, I use the Trader Joe's or Whole Foods presliced veggies and have the batch going in about 10 minutes or less.

Root veggies don't seem to mix really well with slow cooker beans, at least to my taste. Have tried carrots, parsnips, beets, potatoes, in varying combinations. Overall result was not really appreciated by myself or my spouse.

Don't use brassicas as veggies, either (cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, etc). Kale sometimes works, but the cruciform veggies and cabbage tend to get sulfur tasting with long slow cooking in liquid. If you really want them in there, roast them in the oven and add them after the beans are cooked.

Labels: , ,