Tag Archives: Beans


I think the first time I heard anyone mention cassoulet, it was Martha Stewart years ago in the first version of her television show.  Outside of remembering that the main ingredients were white beans and a huge amount of meat for what could be classified as a one pot meal, I know she described it as one of her traditional holiday party menu items.  I also remember wondering how a preparing a pot of beans could be so involved.  Really?

Now I know.

To say that cassoulet is simply a bean stew or “dried beans and meat” is humorous because I grew up eating what could be called bean stew.  Beans go in a pot with few additional ingredients and not much attention.  Time goes by and a tasty dinner is served.  Bear in mind in this scenario, the bean to meat ratio is in favor of the legumes.  Cassoulet is anything but that, but I’m thinking it shouldn’t have to be.  At the same time, if I set out to make one of the many recipes I glanced at for “easy” cassoulet I’d feel I’d cheated somehow.  Perhaps I’d have something with flavor similar to cassoulet, but I’d miss out on what I often enjoy so much about tackling an involved recipe for the first time:  all the thinking I do.  There’s something very gratifying about methodically working through a recipe that takes some thought and effort.

I’ll confess this all began with a small jar of duck fat I brought back from England recently.  I saw it and knew it would remind me of all the possibilities, so tucked it well into my suitcase until we arrived home, then stored it in the fridge to think about.  Many traditional versions of cassoulet are made with duck fat, but I needed a recipe that wasn’t swimming in it, which means I would need to choose a recipe lacking in, well, duck — or more specifically, duck confit.  My little jar’s quantity wasn’t nearly enough to make that.

Some may say a duckless cassoulet is sacrilege, but I know the recipe I chose, which uses tomatoes and a bread crumb topping, could also invite that complaint.  Cassoulet is a dish originally from the Languedoc region in Southern France, with the towns of  Castelnaudary, Toulouse and Carcassonne all claiming credit for its creation and there are as many variations as there are village cooks in that region.  Originally, I’d considered floundering through a Toulouse Cassoulet until I came to my senses realizing I hadn’t the time I needed to construct it.

I made the cassoulet, but I confess that I did not break the “film” that develops over it while it cooks seven times, so evidently, I did not create anything perfect.  Rich, yes.  Perfect, no.  With respect to all that’s good about home cooking, and for someone like me who truly enjoys the process of constructing a dish like this, it’s a great reason to gather a group of special friends for a special meal just because.

Especially on a cold winter’s day.

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Scarlet Runner Bean Soup with Vegetables

I love beans.  I always have.  Although you might catch me sampling the piquant flavors of a great baked beans recipe at a barbeque, I’m more of a straight bean sampler.  Someone who enjoys the texture and taste of a big pot of beans without too many other flavors interfering with that of the bean — not all beans, but most, and I’ve sampled quite a few.

I’m always on the look out for ingredients I’ve read about or wanted to try, and when I spot one in the market, it does go in the basket.  There are no particular plans for its use, but I know there will be at some point in time.  This does cause problems in my pantry at times, but at others, it comes in quite handy.

Like now.

Beans are one of those thrifty, stick-to-your-ribs kind of meals that is also very good for you.  And since everyone seems to be thinking about health after the sweet laden holidays, and perhaps trying to recover from the sticker shock as well, beans are perfect.

I swear my shopping cart left skid marks on the floor when I saw the package of heirloom scarlet runner beans.  They were enormous and mottled in color, and until that point in time, I’d only imagined them in full summery scarlet bloom growing chaotically on a picket fence — like sweet peas without the varied pastel colors.  I swear I didn’t know the plant actually produced beans that could be eaten, but I’ve never been much of a vegetable gardener, unfortunately.

The package didn’t appear to hold that many beans, so I didn’t hesitate to prepare the entire bag for the three of us.  Meatless Monday has turned into meatless Tuesday and Wednesday lunch, and yes, there is still enough to share.

Definitely cost effective, but also full of nutrients, like vitamin B-17 which is believed to be a cancer-fighter.  They’re low in saturated fat, and can help reduce cholesterol and triglyceride levels.  It really is true that they’re good for your heart just like that ditty goes.

And then there were those rutabagas…

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NON-Cowboy Caviar: Beat the Heat

When the weather is warmer or more humid than I like, or when I don’t want something packed with calories disguised as butter, or cream, or bacon, I crave food that has a bite, some salt, and involves work.

No, the work isn’t about the preparation — it’s about chewing.  Chewing, crunching, and savoring the most amazing combination of flavors, that is.

Oh, and little or no heat.  That would be heat from a stove or a grill, because I can’t imagine life without the heat that comes from a nice jalapeno.  And since Grace of A Southern Grace is having a little “Beat the Heat” shindig over at her place, I thought this just might be perfect.

The first time I made this salsa it was the early ’90s and I was desperate for food packed with nutrients, and absolutely no fat.  I’d had my youngest son a year earlier, thought I was looking just fine, and then saw a photo of myself at a wedding that rudely informed me otherwise. Where, oh where did that second chin come from?   So, I was hell bent for leather to lose weight and get fit.  No-fat diets were all the rage back then, and I went a bit crazy eating things like fresh strawberries dipped in Cool Whip, and smearing apple butter on my dry toast.  Eating lots and lots of pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil.  And, wonder of all wondrous things, learning how to stomach non-fat milk.  Unbelievable.  For exercise, I took a swimming test, then promptly learned how to row.  You know.  Those long skinny boats that lots of people sit in with the slidey seats?  They all stroke at the same time when that person at the end yells at them?  Yes, those.  I know.  I was 36 years old.  What in hell was I doing?  Well, the other women were my age and older, so that made it easy (such a liar…)  But they were buff, and I was, um…pudgy.

Where was I?

Salsa. About that time, I started making this salsa. Wait.  Salad.  So, maybe it’s a salsa salad.  I think that’s the closest name for it, although in years since, I have seen it called Cowboy Caviar, which some people think morphed from Texas Caviar.  Now, I learned what I know about cowboys from old movies, and I’m not, nor ever will be from Texas. And most importantly, I have lived in San Diego for most of my life, so there’s no way I’d call my chunky bowl of low carb, low fat flavor either of those names.

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Chipotle Glazed Country Pork Ribs and Beans

From time to time when reading what others write about food — whether printed on paper or published on the web — I’ve come across a person here and there who comments about what they describe as pretentious food.  It always causes me to stop and wonder what that might be, knowing that everything is relative.  Pretentious to one person may be another’s idea of food heaven, and I’m not sure that I consider anything pretentious about food.  To me, food is somewhat like art or music, its connotation different depending on the artist, the style, and even the time and place it was first enjoyed.

As much as I can say that I may not enjoy all varieties of any of the above-mentioned types of creative expressions, I do appreciate that someone created it, and that others consider it a favorite whether I like it or not.

That philosophy is most likely what allows me to enjoy eating occasionally at restaurants that serve small amounts of food perfectly displayed on large plates that cost more than I should be able to afford.  If anything bothers me, that would.  The price.  But I’ve learned over many years, that excellent food has often been prepared with finely honed skills, and superior products.  Who am I to do anything other than savor the experience when I can?

I appreciate those opportunities even more because I was raised on very simple food that was comfortingly flavorful.  We were skinny little waifs growing up, well, except for my sister, who ironically is the thin one now.  So my mother fed us food that others describe as something that would stick to our ribs.  As my dad would say, “For dinner tonight, we’re having hundreds of wonderful things.”

We quickly learned that meant beans.  Pinto beans cooked slowly in a very large pot.  Definitely anything but pretentious!  The recipe most likely came from the bag the beans came in with a touch of this and that from my mother or grandmother. The meal usually included coleslaw, rice, and biscuits if we were lucky.  It was heavenly.

Now, when I make a pot of beans, it includes my own touches, of course.  And most often, we have some sort of meat or barbeque alongside.  It’s not quite as satisfying as my mother’s, but you know how memories are.  They sort of improve with age.

Courtesy of Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen, I’ve adapted his “Chile-Glazed Country Ribs” or Costillas Adobadas recipe for you here, as well as a rendition of our family’s Pinto Beans.

 My Pinto Beans

1 lb. dried pinto beans
1 lg. onion, quartered
3 lg. cloves garlic, peeled
3 pieces thick bacon
2 green chilies, roasted, peeled and seeded

garnish of cheese & cilantro

  1. Rinse and examine beans to remove any small stones.  Pour into a large pot and cover with boiling water by about 2 inches.  Let sit for at least an hour to soften the beans.  It’s fine if they soak longer.
  2. Pour off water.  Cover beans with fresh water.  Add onion and garlic and bring to a boil before turning down to a low simmer.  Cover and cook for about 1 hour.  After that time, check the consistency of the beans by tasting one for texture.  You want the skin firm, but there shouldn’t be a crunch.
  3. Add the bacon and the green chilies, and season with salt & pepper.  Replace the lid and continue cooking over a very low heat, making sure the beans are simmering for about 30-45 minutes.
  4. Correct seasoning and serve with your choice of cheese and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro.
  5. While the beans are soaking before you’ve begun to cook them…

Make the marinade for the ribs.

Chipotle Glazed Pork “Ribs”

4 lbs. pork shoulder “country ribs” (boneless slices)
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
5 chipotles in adobo
3/4 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. pepper
pinch ground cloves
two pinches ground cumin
2 T white wine vinegar
1/4 c. water
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
1-1/2 T honey

  1. To make the marinade, roast the garlic in the skin by heating over medium heat in a skilled until blackened in spots.  Let sit to soften, then peel.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, place chipotles, peeled garlic, oregano, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, cumin, and vinegar.  Process, and add 1/4 water as you go, until the mixture is a smooth puree.  Strain through a strainer for a finer texture if you wish.
  3. Brush pork with marinade, reserving about half.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, preferably as long as it takes for the beans to cook.  Bayless suggests that overnight is fine.  To the reserved sauce, add  1-1/2 T honey and mix well.  Set aside.
  4. To cook the ribs, preheat oven to 325 degrees F.  When the oven is hot, transfer the meat to a large oven proof dish, juices and all.  Pour in 1/4 c. water, cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes.  Remove from oven, baste with the reserved sauce and put back in oven for an additional 10-15 minutes uncovered.
  5. Pour off excess juices, turn oven up to 350 degrees F, and brush with sauce.  Return to oven for an additional 10 minutes until meat is dark and glossy with the sauce.


Recipe Notes:

  • I was going to put these on the grill and cook them very, very slowly.  Alas, the propane tank was empty, and no, nothing will get me to drive down to The Home Depot if I don’t have to.  My oven works just fine!
  • These “ribs” are so moist and tender, the sauce not too spicy, and are well worth trying.  I love this particular cut of meat.  It’s usually not expensive, and lots can be done with it.  It’s perfect for this dish.
  • With respect to the beans, they turn out a bit differently each time I make them.  Sometimes they’re more soupy, and others, they’re firm and in a cloudy thin broth.  No matter.  They’re beans.  Have fun playing around with them.  And if you’ve never made a pot of pintos, you should try.  They’re hundreds of wonderful things good for your body!