If you're like us, you look to the seasons for what to cook. Get to the market, and we'll show you what to do with your haul.
Today: Meet the creamiest, most flavorful pot of beans you've ever made, tangled up with kale.
If you have read the back of a bag of beans, you know how to cook beans. It requires little more than liquid, salt, and time. You'll throw in half of an onion, a few cloves of garlic, maybe some bay leaves -- the aromatic equivalent of a Hail Mary, added to the pot at the last minute in hopes that they'll do something productive.
You'll get a good solid result: fully cooked beans sitting in their own broth, the building block of many a virtuous meal. You'll remove that sea creature of an onion and discard it; maybe you'll forget about the garlic and hope that whoever finds it has a serious head cold, which is likely, what with it being February and all.
But lying within that same combination of ingredients is a better way to do things, and all it takes is a rethinking of your process, a rejiggering of your steps.
Remember all those times you made risotto? You sautéed your alliums, made sure they were well seasoned and softened before you added rice, then swirled everything around to let all the flavors interface before any liquid ever entered the scene. Start thinking about your beans in the same way.
Once you do, you'll wind up with a rich pot of beans that's bordering on stew, singing from its belly, each ingredient having given you its all. When all of the beans are cooked, low and slow, and their starches have seeped into the cooking liquid and thickened up their surroundings, you'd be smart to tear up a whole head of kale and submerge it until its leaves wilt and you begin to consider going at this thing with a fork.
Just like baby Jesus, this recipe was born on Christmas day. I knew there would be a mound of mashed potatoes on our table, and needed something substantive to pile atop them, with a sauce that could double as gravy, perhaps with a bit of green thrown in for fun. And here you have it.
Use any aromatics you like; I favor onions, garlic, celery seed, and thyme. Sauté, salt well, then add your soaked beans. (I like cranberry, but any creamy bean will do; think more white bean, less chickpea.) Once they've had time to soak some stuff up, then you can add your liquid, all at once. Add a whole carrot, snapped in half, and some bay leaves. Boil. Simmer for an hour or so. Remove the carrot before serving, or mash it up and let a few irregular hunks wade through your beans and kale.
Good vegetable stock, as always, will make a big difference here, but of course you can use the stuff from a box, or just slum it with tap water; you'll still be happy with the results. Add a glug of wine or vermouth at the end, if you feel your pot needs a pick-me-up; or just let the beans be beans, earthy and salty and steadfast in their deep baritone flavors.
Serves 6 to 8
2 cups dried beans
Water for soaking
1/4 cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, coarsely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1 heaping teaspoon celery seed
1 large pinch of dried thyme
1 pinch of red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper
5 cups of liquid (I like a mix of homemade vegetable stock and water)
2 to 3 bay leaves
1 carrot, peeled and snapped in half
One large head of kale, washed and chopped (about 2 heaping cups)
Splash of wine or vermouth (optional)
Photos by Eric Moran