I’ve been super into cooking beans these days. Certainly, this has something to do with trying to eat largely vegan, but I also just really love beans.
My general bean thesis (gbt) is that you don’t have to do much to the beans during the cooking process to get them tasting pretty good, and that what matters most is what you do after you cook them. This is a carry-over from when I was cooking a lot of meat; I never bought into the whole marinade for flavor concept. Certainly, some tough cuts of meat benefit from sitting in something acidic prior to hitting the heat, but this really has more to do with tenderizing (pre-cooking) the meat than it does with imparting any flavor. Most of the marinade, of course, cooks off when you put something over a high heat source. So, I would always just cook my meat (fish included) with olive and s&p, and then – as they say in NOLA – “dress” the meat after the fact with whatever flavor I was trying to accomplish – worked great.
I’ve been taking the same approach with beans. I cook them really simply: boil a big pot of water, then throw in the beans, some peeled (but not crushed) garlic cloves, and a peeled (but not cut up) onion, and let cook for as long as they take to become tender. There is a HUGE debate (in bean circles) regarding soaking; some insist that this not only greatly decreases the cooking time, but also reduces flatulence. While the cooking time does decrease a bit if you give the beans a good soak overnight, there’s no evidence that it reduces flatulence (it seems that the best way to minimize this is to…eat more beans). Others (and, increasingly, I count myself in this camp) don’t feel that soaking really does much in terms of cutting cooking time. (NB: you MUST soak chickpeas in water and a T of baking soda overnight if you want really creamy/smooth hummus.)
In any case, soak if you want/don’t soak if you don’t want – just cook the damn beans. Once cooked, think about adding some things on top of them that will make them taste better. Really, this isn’t much of a stretch; if you strip away the tortilla and the rice (and meat) from a burrito, you’re left with a pile of beans and something acidic (pico de gallo) and creamy (guacamole or sour cream/cheese).
This approach – acidic and/or creamy – will serve you well.
For instance, my new bean jam is to cook up a pile of pinto beans, and to them add a big handful of red onions that have quick-pickled in a vinegary hot sauce like Texas Pete (there’s your acid) and a glob of avocado mashed with lime and cilantro (cream).
Tonight, I went a little – not much – more advanced, and cooked up some white beans (in the same manner as above), drained them, cleaned the bean-cooking pot, and to it added some olive oil and then sautéed onion, carrot, celery, and garlic (all chopped up into little pieces; the amounts don’t matter – use common sense) until they were fairly translucent, added some more olive oil and the beans cooked it all for a little while, and added some salt.
Then I took a handful of flat-leaf parsley and blitzed it in the food processor with the juice of a lemon, a good amount of evoo, and some salt. I poured this into a little bowl, and wiped out the food processor a bit (I hate cleaning food processors, and so I try to use it to make as many similarly-flavored things in it as possible – thereby necessitating only a little wipe down between each use – this also helps in conceiving of a unified menu), added a bunch more parsley, evoo, and a handful of pitted black olives and pulsed it all together to make a simple tapenade. This went on top of pieces of good bread toasted and rubbed with evoo.
Then, a quick salad: good lettuce in a wooden bowl, salt, squirt of dijon, T or 2 of evoo, squeeze of lemon – use your hands to mix – top with a couple poached eggs (boil water in a small pan, crack eggs into individual ramekins, swirl the water to make a whirlpool, slide eggs in, turn heat to low, put a lid on the pan and cook for three minutes before pouring the eggs into an ice bath).
To serve: put the beans in bowls, encourage people to top with the parsley/lemon sauce; pass the bread with the tapenade; serve everyone a bunch of the lettuce and encourage them to break the poached egg on top of it so that it makes the dressing more creamy.
I drank Lillet Blonde with this, but pretty much any wine (red or white) you like would go well with this; since it’s winter, I’d probably go with a less-fruity Burgundy or a Rhone (if red), or something flinty, like a Meursault (if white).
Once the beans are cooked, the rest of this dinner comes together in around 20 minutes.