Beans and sweets

Iris’s favorite meal from about age nine to fifteen months was canned black beans and canned sweet potatoes. I’d put a little butter and cumin on the beans and just cut the sweet potatoes into chunks. Beans are pretty much the perfect baby food: they’re full of fiber and protein, bite-sized, and easy to chew. (Just like babies themselves!) Plus, everyone expects babies to be gassy anyway.

Probably Iris would be delighted to have canned black beans for lunch anytime, but I wouldn’t, and now that she’s a little person rather than just a baby, I feel weird serving her something I wouldn’t eat myself. So I needed to find a bean dish that the whole family could enjoy.

Trouble is, I’ve never been a big bean fan. Now I’m coming around. It will not surprise you to learn that this involves copious amounts of pork.

The first step in my bean education was discovering fresh cranberry beans at the farmers market a couple of years ago. Fresh beans, which are fairly expensive and good only in the summer and early fall, are to dried beans what fresh pasta is to dried pasta. Dried beans are always going to be the old reliable, but prepared certain ways, fresh beans are a remarkable change of pace. They’re easy and fun to shell (Iris helps), and the beans themselves are speckled and cute like little dinosaur eggs. You can throw them into a braise (they’re pretty much impossible to overcook) or boil them for twenty minutes and season them with olive oil, salt, and pepper for a more Tuscan approach. The best thing I’ve done with them is throw some into corn chowder.

Shelling bean season is over now, though, so we have a go-to dried bean recipe. I’ve had plenty of bad luck cooking dried beans in the past, ending up with a pot full of beans cooked to random doneness, one bean collapsing into much and the next tooth-crackingly hard. Now I know how to avoid that, for the most part: don’t buy old beans.

Dried beans seem like they’ll last forever, but actually they get weird after sitting around for years and don’t cook right. So buy the freshest dried beans you can. How can you tell “fresh” dried beans from old skanky ones? You can’t, so buy your beans in one of two places: at a farmers market (a vendor at mine sells dried cranberry beans from this summer, and they are awesome) or in a bulk food bin as seen at creepy natural foods stores and many supermarkets. Never buy dried beans in a plastic bag; they could be fine, but it’s not worth the risk.

Also, dried beans take longer to cook than I thought. The bean recipe I’m about to share with you cooks for about two and a half hours. I would have expected the beans to dissolve into soup by that time, but they don’t. In fact, I’ve cooked canned beans for a couple of hours and they didn’t fall apart. I’m not sure how this rumor got started. Maybe beans fall apart if you boil the hell out of them or something.

So, without further ado, here’s a Rick Bayless bean recipe.

**Drunken Pintos**
Adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen
Serves 4 to 6

1 pound dried pintos or cranberry beans
10 cups water
4 ounces pork shoulder, cut into 1/2 inch dice (buy a small pack of country-style ribs or a shoulder steak)
4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2 inch strips
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 large jalapeños, sliced
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons tequila
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1. Rinse the beans and place in a large pot with water and pork shoulder. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook, partially covered, two hours or until the beans are evenly tender. Add more water as necessary to keep the beans below the water line.

2. While the beans are cooking, fry the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate. Pour off some of the drippings. Cook the jalapeño and onion in the remaining bacon fat over medium heat for about ten minutes, until nicely browned.

3. When the beans are tender, stir the salt and the cooked bacon, jalapeño, and onion into the bean pot. The finished dish should be quite soupy, so add more water if necessary. Continue simmering for 20 minutes to blend the flavors. Stir in the tequila and cilantro and serve with warm corn tortillas.

6 thoughts on “Beans and sweets

  1. Kathleen

    What would you recommend to replace tequila for those who prefer to cook without alcohol? I have a hurkin’ bag of pinto beans from Colorado to put to use…

  2. mamster Post author


    Seriously, I think a little bit of cider vinegar would be great. It’s very easy to overdo cider vinegar, so start with like a teaspoon and go from there.

  3. teri

    Fresh beans actually freeze beautifully. And you can cook them in frozen form – no need to defrost. I do it with cranberry beans all the time and find that there’s not much loss in texture.

    And if you’re looking for really fresh dried beans, try mail order from Steve Sando at They are beautiful to look at and even better to eat (try the Good Mother Stallard beans)!

  4. mamster Post author

    That’s good to know about fresh beans, teri. Unfortunately, now the season is over and it’ll have to wait until next year.

    I have had Rancho Gordo’s beans and they’re great.

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