When you are looking around your kitchen and thinking of ways to cut back your food budget, think about beans. They are affordable, packed with nutrition and full of comfort-food-flavor. These multi-ethnic staples are at the peak of their season in the Northwest. Shell beans, fresh from their dry coverings, are simple to prepare and can be eaten plain or seasoned with just about any herb or spice.
Alm Hill Gardens, a longtime vendor at the University Farmers Market, has been participating in a series of field trials with WSU to test numerous varieties of shell beans. Some of these are old favorites but there are plenty of new ones to try. Gretchen Hoyt and Ben Croft, owners of the 47 acre sustainable family farm for 35 years, are innovators in their own right. They have leased their land to their twenty Latino employees and new farmers working with the non-profit, Growing Washington. Hoyt and Croft still remain an important part of the farm and provide mentorship to the aspiring farmers.
If you choose to shell beans yourself, buy a pound for every cup you want to serve. If you buy the shelled beans, you may want to use them soon or take them out of the plastic container so they can dry without molding. One thing that makes these freshly shelled beans so appealing is their cooking time is much shorter than it will be when they’re fully-dried. No need to soak, just cook and enjoy the freshly-harvested flavor.
My favorite way to cook fresh shell beans is in my 10″ cast iron skillet. First I put some olive oil in the hot skillet, turn the heat down and saute several cloves of garlic , herbs and veggies for flavoring. Rosemary is a wonderful choice especially with white beans. Remember you aren’t going to be cooking the daylights out of these since they aren’t completely dried so carrots, onions and celery can all maintain their integrity when added now. If you are going to use some meat, like sausage or bacon, fry it first, remove from the pan, then use less olive oil to start.
Wash, pick out and discard any damaged beans. Add washed beans to lightly sauteed veggies and cook for a couple of minutes to coat with oil. Add water or broth and cover by 1/2 to 1″. You can always add more liquid if needed. Even without soaking, fresh beans will absorb less liquid than dried beans. Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Cooking time may vary depending on the variety but I have found 30 to 60 minutes will work for most. The best way to check for doneness is a taste test. Overcooking is preferable to undercooking — crunchy beans are not too popular. I always add salt at the end of the cooking process because it can toughen when added too early.
Beans and greens have long been best friends. Check out Sally’s entry for more on that — or try out her recipe for kale salad from yesterday, it looks like a winner. There is always beans & rice, Lily’s personal favorite and well-liked by kids (and adults) everywhere.