Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thrifty Cooking - A Hill of Beans...

A couple of weeks ago, I was browsing through the farmer's market when I happened upon a table devoted to selling products grown by farmers who can't make it to the market or grown by farmers from outside of Rhode Island. I was particularly intrigued by some yellow-spotted dried beans labeled, "Yellow-Eyed Beans," grown by Freedom Bean Farm in Maine.

After chatting with the girl behind the booth about the beans, I purchased a small bag, plunking down a mere two or three dollars--quite a bargain, even if I didn't know quite what to do with them.

I've always been intrigued by beans, as legumes are probably one of the most healthful items you can get for a buck a bag. Vegetarians know this, of course, getting most of their protein intake from beans and relatives of beans. However, one of the thing that's always frustrated me is that most bean recipes, aside from a few soups and classic "Boston Baked Beans," center around strong "Tex-Mex" and middle eastern flavors. I've never been a huge fan of ingredients like cilantro, cumin, and curry. My palate just can't seem to appreciate them.

A week or two later, Susy over at Chiot's Run (one of my favorite and most inspiring blogs) just happened to post about beans and a couple of her favorite bean recipes. Wanting to hear more from someone with more bean experience than me, I posted in the comments, asking for more recipes--in particular, some without the flavors I'm not a big fan of. Apparently, I'm not the only one who asked and it soon turned-into a whole other post of people sharing their bean recipes.

A special thanks goes out to Susy and her readers. And now, I'd like to share two of my favorite bean recipes with you.

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Tuscan-Style Rosemary & White Bean Soup
Loosely based on a recipe from Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa)

1 medium onion diced (1/2-inch pieces)

2-3 Carrots peeled and diced (1/2-inch pieces)

2 16-oz cans of Small White Beans drained and rinsed

4-6 cups (1.5-2 quarts) of chicken broth

2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 sprig of fresh Rosemary (or 1 tsp dried rosemary, crushed)

1-2 cups shredded cooked chicken (optional)

salt and pepper


1) Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottom pot on medium-high
2) Add carrots and onions to the pot. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the veggies and stir. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and carrots start to soften.
3) Add white beans, chicken broth, chicken (if using) and rosemary to the pot. Liquid should cover beans by ¼ of an inch. Add water and additional salt if necessary.
4) Cover and bring to a boil.
5) Uncover. Turn heat down to a high simmer.
6) Remove rosemary sprig once it appears wilted. Leaving it in longer will only make the soup more “woody” tasting.
7) Let soup simmer for 20+ minutes until beans and veggies soften further. Soup should thicken slightly.
8) Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.


Vegetarian Version: Substitute College Inn vegetable broth in place of chicken stock and omit the chicken. I specify the brand because I've tried other brands and most either taste bland or have MSG in them.


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Bean Dinner Salad
This salad is very flexible in terms of ingredients and quantities. Adjust to your personal preference or just use what you find in the refrigerator. I made up the recipe one night as an easy meal and a way to use the yellow-eyed beans mentioned above.

1-2 cups canned or cooked light-colored beans (white, navy, canellini, etc.)
2 cups shredded cabbage or other greens
1 carrot, washed, peeled, and shreded with a box grater
2 cups home-made crisp bread croutons
2-cups chicken or firm cooked fish (salmon, tuna, swordfish) in 1-inch cubes, at room-temperature (optional)
Any other veggies you desire

1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1/3 cup Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup brown sugar or honey
1/4 teaspoon corn starch
salt & pepper

1) If using canned beans, rinse beans thoroughly in a collander to remove the thick packing liquid. Allow excess water to drain for a bit.
2) In a glass jar or a container with a tight-fitting lid, combine vinegar, olive oil, sugar, corn starch, and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Close the container and shake vigorously.
3) Toss all other ingredients well in a large mixing bowl. Pour half of dressing over mixture and continue tossing to coat. Add more dressing as needed until all vegetables are well coated.
4) Serve at room temperature for a great light evening meal or lunch.

Tip: If preparing ahead, dress vegetables and add croutons 10 minutes before serving.


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