Monthly Archives: April 2015

Go Soak Some Beans

“Soak some dry beans now or as soon as you get home,” advised Cal Peternell ,chef at the famous Chez Panisse restaurant, in his delightful and useful new book Twelve Recipes (William Morrow, 2014). Doing so, he promised, would give me a feeling of accomplishment for the next 12 hours. And he was right, especially since the package of pinto beans I soaked had been languishing in the cabinet for months if not years, and preyed on my mind each time I opened the door.

It took only moments to pick over 2-1/2 cups of beans (cooked yield: about six cups) discarding any organic debris or stones masquerading as beans. (I actually found a real stone this time.) Then, I briefly rinsed them, put them into a large bowl with plenty of water and left them on the counter overnight. The next morning, I awoke with the wonderful realization that I’d already gotten dinner started.

Completing the process was quick and the cooking did not demand my constant attention. After draining the beans, I put them into a big pot, covered them in fresh water by about two inches and added whatever aromatic vegetables I had on hand ( a few celery stalks and carrots chopped in large chunks, an onion peeled and halved), some parsley stems, a garlic clove and a bay leaf.

Peternell suggested salting the beans before cooking but I did not, partly for health reasons. Most experts warn that salting beans at this stage can toughen them.

I brought the water to a boil, lowered it to simmer, stirred occasionally and after about 40 minutes began testing for doneness by sampling several beans from different parts of the pot. They are ready when the skin is still firm but the center is creamy. Then I reserved some cooking liquid and discarded the aromatics and herbs. I might have eaten the beans just that way, drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with salt, or kept them for up to three days in the fridge and used them in a variety of recipes.

Instead, I combined them and some of their cooking liquid with some carrots, onions, minced garlic and diced tomato that had been sautéed in olive oil. Truth be told, they were better the following day, when I’d added more garlic, some cumin and a dash of Allepo pepper and reduced their cooking liquid to intensify its flavor.

One caution: Peternell points out that old beans may cook unevenly. They’re still good in soup, but he recommends looking for a local source for fresh beans or ordering online from a reputable company. These are two he suggested:

Spring Cleaning Steps

Probably because we had a snowfall only last week and temperatures have fallen below freezing frequently since spring sprung, I’ve gotten way behind on the usual indoor and outdoor cleaning jobs. Now the need to attend to them keeps nagging at mind as I fight to meet upcoming writing deadlines. My solution to this problem is to do the job a step at a time,instead of tackling spring cleaning  in a weeklong whirlwind, as many people do.

It’s amazing how good it felt to simply transfer the sweaters to summer storage.Tackling that tiny task freed up space in a drawer that had been clogged with clothes from two seasons and freed my mind to attend to the work at hand.

You may find, as I often do, that by accomplishing even the smallest job builds enough momentum to let you knock off two or three more items on your list. But even making a start will be sufficient.

Loving Lentils

“You could make this,” my husband remarked, as we were happily munching on a tasty lentil hors d’oeuvre at Il Corso, a New York City restaurant that we were trying for the first time. Initially, lentils as an appetizer seemed odd to me, but since we couldn’t seem to stop eating the spicy, oily legumes piled onto the crusty bread that accompanied them, I decided to take him up on his suggestion.

Looking for a recipe to follow, I found one in the very first book I grabbed from my shelf. The Silver Palate Cookbook (Workman Publishing, 1979) includes a recipe for Lentil and Walnut Salad. Authors Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins call a good lentil salad, “an excellent first course.” Who knew?

Unlike beans, lentils don’t require overnight soaking and cook in only about 25 minutes. Meanwhile, you can whip up a vinaigrette to dress them and then let them marinate in it until dinnertime.