I wonder if there are "bean people." I imagine there are--people who know the difference between navy beans and white beans (is there a difference?). People who know beans. People who make meals, outside of chili and refried beans, out of beans.
Bean salads. Bean dips. Bean burritos. Bean pies.
They would most certainly not be the other type of people, the people whose stomachs swell, tighten, and sound like a war zone at the slightest sniff of beans.
If it sounds like I speak from experience...I do.
I love beans and I suffer because of it. I've avoided them mostly, in recent years, as it seems like the more years I gain, the more sensitive my tummy becomes.
But, ahhh...the torture. I love beans. I really do.
I have fond memories of getting bean pies off Crenshaw in L.A. ...and constantly creeping into the refridgerator to lift up the pink pastry box and cut off another slice. Of course I had to compete with my older brother as he loved the pies too, and often brought one home after work.
But this post is not about bean pies, nor bean people. I'd much rather share the way I've been cooking beans lately.
Lately as in every Friday, since E has been observing Lent.
Vegan Red Beans & Rice, Soulfood Style
*before I begin, I must share that red beans & rice is one of the first "soulfoods" I made on my own. It contained smoked ham hocks...and was darned authentic, and good. With that said, this is not a "close" replica...it is a better replica.
1lb. of Dried Kidney Beans, sorted and soaked overnight
Carrots (about 3 medium sized)
Celery (2-3 stalks)
Red Bell Pepper
Can of Diced Tomatoes (about 14oz.)
2 Tbl. Tomato Paste
Soy Sauce (low sodium)
Imitation Bacon Bits
2 Bay Leaves
Seasonings (I use: Old Bay, Thyme, Marjoram, Paprika, Celery Salt, Salt & Pepper)
1. Sort through beans, discarding rocks and rotten pieces. Rinse well. Cover with cold water and set aside to soak 6-8 hours. Pour off water, cover with cold water and soak overnight or another 6-8 hours.
*Hint: This double soaking is to get out as much of the gas-causing sugars as possible. If this is not a concern, you can soak overnight, or do a fast soak following package instructions. Also, the Kombu (half a piece) can be added to the soaking beans, preserved and cooked with the beans. Kombu is a sea vegetable that provides a wonderful savory flavor, while also tenderizing the beans and making them easier to digest.
2. Day of cooking. Chop vegetables, season with pepper and herbs and saute in canola oil in the bottom of the pot you plan to cook the beans in. Once vegetables are soft, add 1-2 Tbl. of tomato paste, cook over low-medium heat until paste coats vegetables well and has had a chance to deepen.
Add canned diced tomatoes, using roughly half of the juice in the can. Cook for another 2-3 minutes to give flavors a chance to bloom.
Add beans, cover beans with 2-3 inches of water. Add smoke to taste (I just shake it into the pot, till it smells good) and about 1/4 C. of bacon bits. Turn up the heat and bring to a rapid boil.
*Note: It is key to not add salt before the beans are cooked as the salt toughens the beans and prevents them from getting tender. Because of this I usually wait an hour-two hours before I add any seasonings that have salt in them. This includes the Old Bay, and the Soy Sauce.
3. Once the beans come to a boil, turn heat down to low-medium, cover and let cook. I usually let the beans cook for at least 1 1/2 hours before I start to pay them serious attention. I check and stir about every 15 mintues or so to make sure they are not burning, but if your heat is low enough this will not be an issue.
4. Cook beans for 2-3 hours. This is where it gets sketchy. I usally don't keep track of time because it generally takes me hours to cooks beans. I like my beans cooked very well, especially kidney beans which have to be cooked all the way through or else they will cause stomach distress due to a natural irritant in the beans.
While the beans are cooking, skim any foam that floats to the top as that is the beans releasing the "gas."
5. Once the beans are mostly done, I add soy sauce, Old Bay, and more smoke, herbs, and bacon bits as needed. This is done to taste. Add salt within the last 30 minutes or so of cooking.
Serve over rice, with Southern Cornbread on the side.
Variations: Onions, green bell peppers, and garlic can be added to the vegetables. Also, hot sauce, real meats, can also be added to the recipe according to taste.
Serving: This feeds my family of four for 2-3 days, easily. This makes a hearty pot and I would say it easily serves 8-12 depending on the size of the portions. Expect to have leftovers, unless you are serving a crowd.
Time: This meal takes time, but it is not "active" time. Most of the time is passed with the beans cooking on their own on the stove. It generally takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to chop everything, saute, and get the beans set to cook alone. With that said, this dish does require planning ahead to soak beans, so start 1-1 1/2 days before you would like to serve if you plan on doing a double, overnight soak.
For five/six o'clock dinner, I'd start cooking the meal at about noon/1pm. The longer and slower the beans cook, the deeper the flavor and the more tender the beans.
Cost: This is a very cheap meal. The beans usually cost me between $1-2. The vegetables another $4-5, and everything else is usually something I have in the pantry. The cost generally ends up being about $.50-.75 a serving.
I love this meal, and so does my family. It is one of those hearty, comfort meals that you curl up to and feel spoiled eating. Three things always amazes me: how cheap it is, how easy it is to make, and how good it is. Easily a family staple.
Growing up, my Granma and Papa didn't make Red Beans & Rice, at all. Neither did my Mama or Auntie. Instead we had Black Eye Peas--always. And those few times my mother and I would make chili in a crockpot. But, for some reason I always feel rooted when I make this meal. I feel like I am owning my heritage and passing on the richness of my people to my kids/family. I guess I feel connected.
Is is the soulfood taste? The southern cornbread? The memories of Granma stirring a pot of beans? Remembering Mama telling me soaking beans gets the gas out, when she taught me to make chili while she worked? I'm not sure, but I know I feel like I own something sacred and worthwhile whenever I feed my family soulfood.
I feel like I'm Granma and I'm cooking with love...naturing this beautiful family God has given me. I feel womanly, strong. I feel like I am a part of a tradition of women, and men, who love and nurture through the stove.
I'll share one more memory and then hold my peace.
When me and E were dating, about 6 months or so into our relationship I came down with a nasty cold. My throat felt horrible. I lost my appetite and I remembered I just wanted to wallow in my misery surrounded by the small four walls that was my studio. E would have none of it. He insisted that I eat and that he come over and take care of me. I didn't put up much of fight--I was feeling homesick, 60+ miles away from Granma and Mama, and was probably not far from self-pity as no one would drive out of L.A. to tend to me and a cold. I was "grown" and on my own.
Well, E shows up to my studio with a warm tupperware of "caldo." He lived close enough that I didn't even have to re-warm it. His mom had made frijoles, and he promised me it would make me feel better. It wasn't my Papa's homemade chicken noodle soup, but I agreed because I was smitten and loving E something terrible.
I couldn't swallow the beans, but I could drink the broth, slowly. E sat by my side as I slowly slurpped and sipped his mother's caldo. I could taste the love. My suegra loves E something terrible. I don't blame her, he's all kinds of Mr. Wonderful.
Anyway, the broth soothed my throat and before long I was cuddled up to E feeling loved, nurtured, and taken care of. That was the start of my love of affair with my suegra's food; she's an amazing cook.
I'd like to say that was the start of my love affair with E, as it would sound so romantic. But truth is...I loved this man way before that. Our first date to be exact.
So beans...they are Granma's black eyed peas, Mama's crockpot chili, my first soulfood dish, my suegra's nourishing caldo, bean pies off Crenshaw shared with my big brother, a meal my kid's and husband love.
Cooking love letters...Ki
caldo- translates to soup, in this case I'm talking about cooked pinto beans; in my husband's family it is made as a soup the first day, and then re-fried the next morning and evening as leftovers.
suegra- mother-in-law; I hate to call my mil "mother in law," it sounds so impersonal and doesn't come close to expressing how close we have grown in the 13 years me and E have been together. I believe she considers me her daughter, and I consider her my third mother...after Mama and Granma...so suegra, the spanish word sounds better.