Do you know your hutterites from your tiger eyes?
By Jamie Collins, Illustrations by Bambi Edlund, Photography by Michelle Magdalena
Beans were among the first crops that early farmers chose to cultivate, and they were so prized in ancient Rome that the city’s most distinguished families were named after bean and pea varieties: Fabius (fava bean), Lentulus (lentil), Piso (pea) and Cicero (chickpea). In Egypt, beans were placed in the tombs of the Pharaohs so they would have sustenance in the afterlife.
But despite such a long history, we’re still learning about beans, and the recent studies are full of good news. Dried beans are so nutritious, for example, that the most recent USDA dietary guidelines recommend that we triple our current intake from one to three cups per week.
Sometimes referred to as a “perfect food,” beans are an excellent, inexpensive and sustainable source of protein and other nutrients. They’re loaded with fiber and antioxidants and are a great source of magnesium and zinc. They’re also anti-inflammatory and may even help reduce depression.
Seed banks hold half a million different bean varieties from all over the world. But because large-scale commercial growers plant just a hand- ful of high-yielding varieties, chances are you’ve only seen pinto, black, garbanzo, cannellini, kidney beans and a few others at the grocery store. And if you’ve only eaten these varieties—particularly if they were canned—they probably weren’t very tasty.
But lucky for us here on the Central Coast, an array of beautiful, nutritious and delicious freshly dried heirloom beans is hitting area farmers’ market tables this fall, thanks to farms such as Dirty Girl Produce of Santa Cruz and Lonely Mountain Farm of Watsonville.
Elizabeth Borelli, our local bean queen and author of Beanalicious Living (Wyatt McKenzie, 2013), a guide to kicking the processed food habit and improving your family’s health by making beans a staple of your cooking, affirms that you benefit more from dried beans than from those you get from a can.
“Canned beans contain sodium, and unless you buy BPA-free, the material lining the cans contains the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A (BPA), which leaches into the contents,” Borelli says.
What’s more, when measured cup for cup of cooked beans, dried beans are also much cheaper than canned, and their taste and texture are superior.
Joe Schirmer of Dirty Girl has been growing white cannellini beans and cranberry beans for 20 years on his 36 acres. The last few years Joe has also experimented with drying the tiny seed of his French filet beans. He says that the flavor of the light white to purple little beans is magical, but be sure not to over-boil or the skins will break.
Kenny Baker, who farms his 12-acre Lonely Mountain Farm with his sister Dawn and fiancée Molly Davenport, started growing a diverse variety of beans in an effort to find a niche product for Santa Cruz’s competitive farmers’ markets.
“Having a small, diversified farm isn’t enough,” Baker says. “I needed to find something unique to grow. The beans are so fascinating looking and it’s cool to have a shelf-stable product.”
All of these bean varieties are grown locally in our tri-county area:
Cranberry: A well-traveled, two-toned bush bean that is great fresh and dried. It is traditionally used in Italian dishes such as minestrone soup.
Cannellini: A variety of white beans popular in Italy—especially Tuscany. This is my personal favorite due to the clean flavor, good texture and the fact that they don’t fall apart too easily. I love a simple salad of raw spinach, sundried tomatoes and cannellini beans marinated in a balsamic and olive oil dressing.
Hutterite: Lonely Mountain’s best seller, this bush bean has pale green seeds and a creamy flavor, revered for soups. It was introduced to North America by Austrian Hutterite Christians who immigrated here in the 1870s.
Tiger Eye: A medium-sized, light brown bean with dark brown swirls in the shape of an eye. It’s Baker’s favorite because of its beautiful appearance and meaty texture. Also, the shell doesn’t fall apart when cooked.
Jacob’s Cattle: A white bush bean with maroon mottling. Originally from New England, it is great fresh, in soups and baked.
Calypso: Also known as yin/yang, dalmatian or orca, this small, black and white bush bean is native to the Caribbean. It has a light flavor similar to potatoes and is delicious baked with pancetta and sage.
Yellow Eye: An off-white bush bean with a mustard colored “eye” traditionally grown and eaten in Maine. It has a dense, creamy texture. Great cooked with a ham hock.
Hidatsa Shield: A productive and flavorful brown and white pole bean grown in the Missouri River Valley of North Dakota by the Hidatsa tribe. Baker says staking the beans adds much more labor costs and he probably needs to rethink whether it is worthwhile to grow them—so get them while you can!
GROWING YOUR OWN
If you want to plant your own beans, you’ll not only reap a delicious food—you’ll also build up the soil in your garden because beans and other legumes fix nitrogen, which means they enhance the soil by converting nitrogen from the air into nodules on their roots. After the crop is finished and tilled under, the nitrogen serves as a natural fertilizer.
On both the coast and in the inland Monterey Bay area, beans are planted directly in the soil in the spring. Seed inoculants can increase germination and bean yields if applied prior to planting.
COOKING WITH BEANS
The greatest obstacle keeping people from eating more dried beans is probably the perception that they are an overly time-consuming food to prepare. And then there are the digestive issues.
However, Borelli has an answer for both, and that is her “Quick Soak Method” for cooking dried beans. (see below) It only involves a few minutes of active prep time, and the beans will be de-gassed, fully cooked, and ready to add to a recipe after a couple of hours of soaking and cooking—while you do something else.
EXPLORE: In Santa Cruz, beans and how to prepare them will be the topic of the Sept. 10 installment of the Santa Cruz Community Farmers’ Markets’ Food Shed Project. “Beans, Beans the Magical Fruit” will begin at 3pm at the Santa Cruz downtown market on Cedar Street and will feature Lonely Mountain Farm’s Baker and Back Porch’s chef Austin Kaye. www.santacruzfarmersmarket.org
In Carmel Valley, Janna Jo Williams of Earthbound Farm’s Farm Stand in Carmel Valley has been planting and nurturing scarlet runner bean teepees for over a decade in the farm stand’s kid’s garden. Children love to crawl inside and sit on the relaxing chamomile floor and harvest the magical purple and maroon heirloom beans, pocketing them like treasures—and hopefully replanting them in neighborhoods everywhere on the Monterey Peninsula. www.ebfarm.com/story/our-farm-stand
Jamie Collins is the owner of Serendipity Farms and has been growing organic row crops at the mouth of Carmel Valley since 2001. She distributes her produce through a CSA, u-picks and farmers’ markets.
TAMING YOUR BEANS: THE QUICK SOAK METHOD
From Beanalicious Living by Elizabeth Borelli (Wyatt McKenzie, 2013)
If you’re in a hurry, here’s a super-quick preparation suggestion. It’s also the most effective de-gassing method I know.
In a large saucepan, cover dried beans with three times their volume of water and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 1 hour. Drain.
Refill the same saucepan with an equivalent measure of water to beans. Again bring beans to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered (adding extra water if necessary), for about 45 minutes to 1 1⁄4 hours, depending on the type of bean you’re using. Drain and enjoy in your favorite, bean-friendly fashion.
White Beans with Fresh Sage and Mustard Greens
Courtesy of Elizabeth Borelli, author, Beanalicious Living
I was scouring the winter produce at my local farmers’ market, when I spotted the most beautiful mustard greens, and despite my lack of familiarity, simply had to try them. Duly inspired, I cooked a big pot of white beans until they reached the perfect creamy texture before adding chopped parsnip, fresh sage and the mustard greens for the loveliest flavor combination. The very next day my typically picky grade schoolers packed the leftovers for lunch. Need I say more?
11⁄2 cups dried white beans or 2 BPA-free cans canned white beans
1 bunch fresh mustard greens, chopped into 1-inch pieces (1 cup chopped)
1 large parsnip, chopped (peel on)
1 bunch fresh sage, finely chopped (3–4 tablespoons chopped) or 1/2 cup freshly chopped basil
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2–3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Pepper to taste
To prepare beans from scratch, soak for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse after soaking, then add to a large stockpot and fill with water to cover the beans by at least 6 inches. Turn heat to medium- high and bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook for 11⁄2 hours, adding the parsnip during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
While beans are cooking, wash and roughly chop mustard greens. Wash and finely chop sage. Add all ingredients to cooked beans and mix thor- oughly. Serve as a side dish, atop a green salad or add to a whole grain tortilla with some avocado and greens for a yummy veggie wrap.
North African Date Tangine
From Beanalicious Living by Elizabeth Borelli
Tangine is a North African word for both a special type of ceramic cookware and the succulent stew that’s traditionally cooked inside. The exotic spices make this version of North African Date Tangine beautifully fragrant and very delicious.
1 tablespoon coconut oil
2 large onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed or 2 teaspoons powdered or granulated garlic 2 teaspoons Beanalicious Curry Spice Blend or curry powder
1⁄2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups garbanzo beans, precooked
2 cups jarred or 1 15-ounce BPA-free can crushed tomatoes (Muir Glen is my favorite)
2 cups whole wheat couscous
3⁄4 cup dates, pitted and quartered
Juice of 1 large lemon
1⁄2 cup cilantro, chopped (a mini food processor is recommended, if available)
1 teaspoon salt
To prepare beans from scratch, soak for at least 8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse beans, then add to a large stockpot and fill with water to cover the beans by at least 6 inches. Turn heat to medium-high and bring to a low boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cook for 11⁄2 to 21⁄2 hours. Drain and rinse.
Sauté onion in oil in medium saucepan, stirring often, until it begins to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and Curry Spice Blend and sauté for 1 minute longer. Add tomato, garbanzo beans and 1⁄4 cup water. Cover and cook for 10 minutes longer.
In the meantime, prepare couscous by bringing 4 cups of water to a simmer in medium saucepan. Add couscous and return to boil, remove from heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Add dates, salt and lemon juice to the tangine, stirring thoroughly. Serve over couscous.
Smoky Bacon-Bean Simmer Pot
Courtesy Elizabeth Borelli, author, Beanalicious Living (Wyatt McKenzie, 2013)
How can a hearty bean stew made from scratch be made simple? By breaking it down into 3 simple, 5 minute steps, neatly fit in to your regular routine. The lentil and bean combination makes a stew so rich and delicious, you won’t believe how easy it is to put together. Simply cover your beans in water the night before you plan to serve them, rinse and simmer the next morning, turn the stove off before you leave to start your day and wrap up your recipe with the remaining ingredients that evening. Serve warm or hot. Add a fresh green salad and some thick, crusty whole grain bread for a satisfying meal.
- 3 cups dried bean soup mix, or a mixture of your favorite bean and lentil varieties you have on hand
- 4 cups finely chopped cabbage or chopped kale (do your chopping in the morning while you’re waiting for your beans to come to a simmer)
- 1 cup coconut bacon, or smoked tofu, chopped
- 2 cups jarred or BPA-free canned tomato sauce
- ½ cup water
- ½ tsp. salt (to taste)
- ½ tsp. liquid smoke or smoked paprika (optional)
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup (optional)
Soak beans overnight in plenty of water (4” above the dried bean level), in the same saucepan you’ll use to cook them. The next morning, rinse and refill the saucepan with water to the same level. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 ½ -2 hours before you start your day. Scoop out a spoonful, rinse and decide if they’re soft enough. When fully cooked, add the cabbage, turn off the heat, cover and leave them for at least 15 minutes more. If the room temperature is less than 70° throughout the day, leave the covered bean and cabbage blend on the stove until you get home. Otherwise, when the pot is sufficiently cooled, place it right in the fridge until you’re ready to reheat it to finish the dish.
Drain the cooled bean and cabbage mixture when ready to complete the recipe, and add remaining ingredients. Heat again to simmer and cook covered for 5-10 minutes, then serve.