Weeknight Cooking

A New Pot of Beans, with Kale

February  5, 2014

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. 

Cranberry Beans with Kale on Food52

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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. 

Cranberry Beans and Kale on Food52

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.

Cranberry Beans and Kale on Food52

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. 

Stewed Cranberry Beans with Kale

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)

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Eric Moran

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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    Penny Murcia
Marian Bull

Written by: Marian Bull



Waterobin March 2, 2015
I've grown, purchased and eaten a lot of kale, but I've never found it to be in a "head."
Sasha March 1, 2015
If you soak your beans in a salty, briny pot ful of water they will be even creamier and after rinsing and draining well they will not be salty either.
AntoniaJames March 1, 2015
I didn't know that, Sasha. Thanks for sharing that tip. ;o)
LauriL February 9, 2014
I'm "rejiggering" all the way to the pantry to recreate this sumptuous dish. Hopefully I won't have to slum it and the beans will be MORE than just beans! Sounds awesome...and thanks for the chuckles I always get when reading your column!!
savorthis February 5, 2014
It seems to take 9,000 hours to cook beans in the Mile High City. I will have to try this recipe and see how it goes!
Marian B. February 9, 2014
Oh, wow, I never new that about high-altitude cooking! Hope these ones are a bit easier -- let me know how they turn out!
Penny M. February 5, 2014
My Colombian MIL taught me the secret to creamy, delicious beans... Shred 1-2 green plantains into the pot and a cup or two of hagao.... Loo oh, they are sooooo good!
MaryE February 5, 2014
I think it is very important for people to know that vegetable stock from a box or can is not a substitute for good, homemade stock (which is the easiest thing in the world to make). You would be better off simply using water. Homemade stock will make all the difference here.
Marian B. February 9, 2014
Yes, I'm a big proponent of homemade stock!
AntoniaJames February 5, 2014
I always make my beans this way; if I have them, I invariably add parsley or cilantro stems that I've finely sliced. They sort of disappear in the broth and oh, they are as aromatic as can be! With black beans, I often add a tiny pinch of ground cumin and some dried Italian oregano -- not enough to be discernible as such, but enough to make a difference. ;o)
Mark L. February 5, 2014
Ok, I give...I'm kaled out. The thing that tipped me was the sight of an omnivore dinner guest who completely skipped the baked kale dish I served.
Kenzi W. February 5, 2014
Try this with mustard greens! Or collards!
Marian B. February 5, 2014
Collards would be brilliant. Just make sure they have time to cook down!
Kenzi W. February 5, 2014
I made a big batch of these on Sunday and have been eating them all week. (Last night's dinner: polenta, beans, poached egg.) Halfway to Dinner beans and kale?
Marian B. February 5, 2014
You just stole the title to my forthcoming memoir.