Once upon a time there lived a poor widow who had an only son named Jack …
One sad day Milky White (their cow) gave no milk, and then things looked bad indeed.
“Never mind, Mother,” said Jack. “We must sell Milky White” …
Jack went whistling along until he met a butcher. “Good morning,” said the butcher.
“I am going to market to sell the cow,” said Jack.
With this the butcher put his hand in his pocket and pulled out five curious looking beans.
“What do you call these?” he said. “Beans,” said Jack.
“Yes,” he said. “Beans, but they’re the most wonderful beans that ever were known.”
‘Jack in the Beanstalk,’
English folk tale, author unknown
Legumes harvested solely for their dry seeds are called pulses. They include cannellini beans, great northern beans, black beans, red kidney beans, lima beans, chick peas and split peas, to name a few. They are wonderful, perhaps magical, but not because they will take you to the land of the giant and his goose that laid the golden egg. They are wonderful because of what they do for your body.
These beans and peas are readily available, virtually nonperishable and cheap. They provide you with dietary fiber, especially the insoluble kind, that supports the digestive tract; they are a great source of antioxidants that support the heart, the lungs and the nervous system; and they provide protein without saturated fat and cholesterol. When combined with grains such as rice, barley, quinoa and cous-cous the proteins become complete, containing all the essential amino acids.
Finally, as many Americans reduce their consumption of meat, chefs are turning more often to the dried legumes, not only because they are good for you, but because they provide tasty meals when creatively prepared.
I was curious as to whether the canned versions of these beans differ from the dried form. What I learned was that the nutritional value is about the same except that the canned version contains sodium. From a culinary standpoint the dried peas and beans have a much better texture and flavor when soaked and cooked properly. Soaking in cold water for at least four hours and not more than overnight is the best method, but bringing the beans to a boil and letting them sit, covered, for one hour is almost as good.
Most beans become tender without falling apart when gently simmered for about an hour. Split peas and lentils do not require any soaking at all.
Rinse 1 pound dried cannellini beans and 1 pound dried chickpeas under cold water and place them in a soup pot. Add water to cover by 2 inches and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and let sit for 1 hour. Return the beans to the heat (with the same liquid) and add some rind from parmesan cheese (if available). Simmer until tender, about 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, dice 1/4 pound pancetta (or bacon) and brown in 1 tablespoon olive oil in a heavy saucepan. Remove the pancetta and reserve. Add to the drippings the following coarsely diced vegetables: 1 onion, 2 stalks of celery, 2 carrots, 1 zucchini and 3 cloves of garlic. Cook the vegetables at low heat for 10 minutes and add them to the bean pot. Add 6 cups chicken broth, 1 small (15 oz.) can diced tomatoes, 2 cups fresh cut green beans and 2 cups diced savoy cabbage (or green cabbage). Simmer until the vegetables are tender and add 4 cups chopped kale and the reserved pancetta. Simmer another 10 minutes, remove the parmesan cheese rind and season to taste with coarse salt and pepper.
Serve with grated parmigiano reggiano cheese.
Serves 12; this recipe makes a large batch and may be cut in half if desired.
Chicken and Chorizo ‘Cassoulet’
Rinse 2 cups great northern or navy beans, place in a pot, cover with water and bring to a boil. Cover and let rest for 1 hour. Place on the stove again and add water to cover by 2 inches. Make a bouquet garni by tying together 1 leafy stalk of celery, 3 sprigs of thyme, 2 bay leaves and 6 parsley stems. Add this to the beans along with 4 whole crushed cloves of garlic. Let the bean mixture simmer until tender, about 45 minutes.
In a separate heavy pan, add 1 tablespoon canola oil and place on high heat. Add to this 6 chicken thighs, browning them on all sides. Remove the chicken and add 4 fresh chorizo sausages, cooking until brown on all sides. Remove the sausage and add 2 cups chopped onion, 1 cup diced carrot and 1 cup diced celery. Lower the heat and season with 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme and 1 teaspoon each of coarse salt and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes and add 1 cup white wine and a small can of diced tomatoes. Cook until the wine is reduced by half and remove from the heat.
In a large casserole, place a layer of beans on the bottom and cover it with a layer of chicken. Repeat with a layer of beans and a layer of sliced sausage. Finish with a layer of beans.
Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a sauté pan and add 1 cup whole wheat bread crumbs (or panko crumbs). Place the crumbs on top of the beans in the casserole and put it in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes, or until the chicken and sausage are completely cooked.
Black Bean, Quinoa, Corn and Shrimp Ragout
Place 1 pound of rinsed black beans in a soup pot and add 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil, cover and remove from the heat. Let sit 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans and place back in the soup pot with 6 cups water. Simmer until just tender, about 1 hour.
Peel and devein 1 pound of jumbo shrimp, removing the tails. Place a large, shallow saucepan on low heat and add 2 tablespoons unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add to this 2 tablespoons minced garlic, 2 tablespoons minced shallots and the shrimp. Cook slowly until the shrimp turn opaque, about 10 minutes. Remove the shrimp and set aside.
Add to the pan 1 cup uncooked white quinoa and 1 cup chopped onion. Add 2 cups chicken broth and season with 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Add the quinoa mixture to the cooked black beans along with 2 cups frozen corn. Simmer for 15 minutes and add the cooked shrimp, the zest and juice of 1 lemon and 1/2 cup chopped cilantro. Check for seasoning and serve.
Red Kidney Beans with Rice (Rajmah)
Rinse 1 pound of red kidney beans and place in a soup pot with 2 quarts water. Bring to a boil, cover and remove from the heat. Let sit 1 hour.
Make a small spice bag by placing 6 cloves, 6 peppercorns, 12 cardamom seeds, 2 bay leaves and 1/2 stick of cinnamon in a cheesecloth bag tied off at the top with string. Add this to the beans and simmer until tender, about 1 hour.
In a shallow saucepan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil and add 2 cups chopped onion. Cook briefly and add 2 tablespoons minced ginger, 2 tablespoons minced garlic and 1 minced jalapeno pepper (seeds removed). Continue to cook for 5 minutes and add 1 small can of tomato sauce and 3 diced fresh plum tomatoes. Season with 1 tablespoon coarse salt, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Add this mixture to the kidney beans and simmer for 30 minutes.
Remove the spice bag and stir in 1/2 cup chopped cilantro. Adjust seasoning and serve over rice.
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]