Things You Can Do With A Big Pot of Beans (Or: My Take on the Mediterranean Diet)

March 4, 2013 | By | COMMENTS

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The New York Times recently published an article with a powerful first sentence: “About 30 percent of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, nuts, beans, fish, fruits and vegetables, and even drink wine with meals, a large and rigorous new study has found.”

I like this news because it’s not like it’s saying “all delicious things are bad for you!” It’s saying: “Hey, you can eat really delicious things, just not In-N-Out burgers and milkshakes, ok?” And though I don’t imagine I’ll be giving those up any time soon, it’s good to know that I can maintain a mostly Mediterranean diet by doing the following: pouring a bag of dried beans into a bowl of cold water before starting my day.

It’s really as simple as that: open the bag, pour the beans into a bowl, fill it with water.

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Once you’ve done that you’ve set yourself on a course for a legume-filled week of mostly healthy eating. I say “mostly” because I may or may not have added bacon to the beans when I cooked them. More on that in a second.

Because this approach to the Mediterranean diet is so bean-heavy, it pays to get yourself some nice beans. I’ve sung the praises of Rancho Gordo before on the blog (see here) but they really are the crown jewels of dried beans and if you make a bag last a whole week, like I do, they really pay for themselves.

So let me walk you through it: soak those beans in the morning and then when you come home, 8 hours later, pour out the water, dump the soaked beans into a pot, fill it again with cold water, add an onion, a head of garlic, a dried red chili, some bay leaves, peppercorns, anything you have on hand. There’s no hard and fast rule. You’re just flavoring the water. Then turn up the heat, bring it to a low boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 90 minutes or so until the beans are still firm on the outside, but creamy on the inside. Also: add salt either halfway through or towards the end, depending on your bean belief system.

Once the beans are cooked, take a ladle and conserve some of that bean cooking liquid: about 1 1/2 cups. Then drain the beans and wipe out the pot you cooked them in. No need to scrub it clean.

This last step is where the big flavor happens: in my case, I rendered some bacon, about 3 strips cut into lardons. You could use sausage here or just pour in olive oil and cook an onion until it’s brown. The point is, at this point, you’re kind of making a flavorful bean sauce to coat the beans. So if you do it my way, render the bacon a bit in olive oil, just until it starts to crisp, then add a chopped onion and 3 cloves of chopped garlic. Cook until the garlic’s fragrant (if you have carrots and celery, you could add them here too) then add back your beans and some of that liquid. Cook, stirring and tasting for salt and flavor. When I tasted with this particular batch of beans, I felt like it still needed something: so I added a few squirts of Sriracha. That did the trick.

At that point, you have your beans for the week. Now what to do with them?

That first night, I served the beans on rice to make beans and rice: a classic combination:

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I topped it with lots of chopped parsley to give it some color and an herbaceous note, but that’s not entirely necessary. What’s nice about this is that it totally fills you up and also it’s good for you in a Mediterranean Diet sense. Score one for my heart!

The next morning, I made something that would also work as dinner: olive oil fried eggs on top of the beans with arugula salad on the side.

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The egg yolk, if you keep it soft, coats the beans and makes for a luxurious egg/bean experience. The salad makes it healthier and even more Mediterranean (remember: fruits and vegetables!).

My proudest achievement, though, was the dinner I made on Saturday night. Bean bruschetta:

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(That’s goat cheese bruschetta next to it, let’s ignore it: it’s not on the diet.)

Basically, following my toast principles, I bought a big loaf of multi-grain La Brea bakery bread and sliced thick slices. I toasted them in the toaster (though a broiler would’ve worked even better to get the char you want), rubbed the toast with a clove of garlic, drizzled olive oil on top, put on a layer of arugula I’d tossed with olive oil and lemon juice and then piled on the cold beans. I drizzled more oil on top of the beans and then sprinkled with flaky Maldon sea salt.

It was a real treat–like the first course they give you at Babbo (chickpeas on toast)–and a great thing to eat with a glass of wine while watching “West Side Story” on Turner Classic Movies.

So there you are: my approach to the Mediterranean Diet. Sure, it had bacon in it, but it didn’t have to. Those beans would’ve been excellent just by themselves.

Hope you’re inspired to cook up a big pot of beans… just don’t blame me if the gas they produce ends your marriage. At least you’ll still be alive to find another mate!

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Categories: Cooking, How-To

  • brooklynite

    posts like these are why I read your blog regularly. I know cookie recipes and the like can get more internet hits but I’d rather have ideas for a bag of beans than a baking project at the end of the day. This is how I eat and cook – practical, unfussy, but good. Thanks for the ideas!

  • Caroline @ Pink Basil

    Now you’re speaking my language – there are few things I love more than a big pot of beans to play around with :) (god this comment is so geeky…)

  • The Dilettantista

    Your site is everything and is pretty much the closest thing I’ve found to “daily cooking habits that are awesome” on the internet. I had your Lebanese Chickpea Stew for dinner last night–served it to some impromptu guests with some good bread and a salad and everyone was so very happy. I’ve also made your lentils with bacon and mustard at least three or four times since January 1st. As part of my “eat more inexpensively” plan I’m eating a lot of beans, and I’m using a lot of your recipes! Thanks for being awesome, and also thanks for the musical theater references.

  • Lori Yates

    No simpler meal than beans and fried eggs – that looks great. Everybody is into the Mediterranean Diet these days – here’s my take:

    http://www.foxeslovelemons.com/2013/03/mediterranean-chopped-salad-with.html

  • Maria Tadic

    Do you order those beans online or can you find them in store? I’ve never seen them! http://beanafoodie.com/blog

  • Anonymous

    They’re in some stores (like Cookbook in Echo Park, here in California) but otherwise they’re really easy to order online. If you buy a bunch all at once, they’ll last you a long time.

  • Karmad

    I ordered the Rancho Gordo Mother Stallard beans, on your reccomendation, and all I can sya is THANK YOU!!! I will be getting all my dried legumes from CA from now on.

  • Rachel @ foodrefuge

    Yum! Great post. I love your term “egg/bean experience”. That would make a good band name:-). I also love dried lentils for days when I have less time and/or didn’t think to soak beans in advance. Here’s a curried lentil recipe that’s de-lish!
    http://foodrefuge.blogspot.com/2013/02/curried-lentils-ginger-raita-and.html

  • Eliza B

    I’ve been thinking about investing in Rancho Gordo beans… I think I should just do it and live a long and healthy and beany life. Did you ever read the like nine page article in the nytimes about this island in greece where everyone lives forever and drinks wine and eats goat cheese all the time? Aka goat cheese isn’t bad for you.

    Here’s the link:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/magazine/the-island-where-people-forget-to-die.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

  • http://twitter.com/rickabbo Rick Abbott

    Adam, what about sifting through the beans and checking for pebbles or what-have-you? Is that needed when you buy a quality bag?

  • http://twitter.com/RanchoGordo Steve Sando

    Thanks for nice words! We love you for “getting”: what we do.

  • http://twitter.com/meghanssj Meghanssj

    I am with you Dilettantista. My blogging goal is to be “daily cooking habits that are awesome” with life on the side, and I come here and get tons of inspiration since this blog nails that daily habit thing in a fun and accessible way. Also, I have been teased by friends for putting “good bread” on a shopping list. Glad that isn’t just in my vocab.

    My question is, are rancho gordo beans a brand or a specific bean? I don’t think I can justify shipping for beans and it would probably go against my attempt to lessen carbon footprint when buying food especially since I come from a family of Minnesota bean farmers. Even so, I could stand to break our of my canned kidney bean, black bean, cannelini, pinto, garbanzo rut.

    Another question: aren’t properly prepared beans less to cause gas? I was under the impression that was the way to avoid the need for beano. I eat a lot of beans, mostly canned, and don’t seem to run into it, and thought that proper cooking was the key.

  • Dee

    My favorite breakfast is refried beans, some brown rice, steamed broccoli, a bit of mozzarella, and a fried egg on top. I also add hot sauce. I’m not hungry for hours after this breakfast.

  • Benjamin Atkinson

    Beans…beautiful beans! Bean breakfasts are especially beautiful!

  • Kath the Cook

    Love your posts Adam! I second other thoughts of reliable, good cooking + really awesome writing. Have made the smothered pork (not on the mediterranean diet) several times and many others as well.

    I checked out the Rancho Gordo web site – have heard about them a lot – costs very reasonable, especially if you stock up.

  • june2

    Cooking beans with either mexican epazote, (or a piece of kombu), helps make them digestible. Penzey’s carries it online.

  • olga

    Adam, while working on the Franny’s cookbook, I learned a great trick with beans and chickpeas: while cooking them, add 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil (depending on your amt of beans) to the cooking water along with the aromatics. It makes for a ridiculously luxurious tasting beans and also, the broth is amazing to be used as a base for a quick vegetable soup.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Olga…great trick!
    Adam

  • http://www.facebook.com/dawn.e.newman Dawn Newman

    beans with chopped arugula and orange sections. add juice of another orange and a little olive oil….. soooo good!!

  • JK

    Or even better, after soaking overnight, drain the water, and put beans into a slow cooker with fresh water and the aromatics. Finish them on the stove top when you get home!

  • Mike

    This was great, Adam. Being single and on a budget I’m always looking for tasty options that can provide leftovers for multiple meals.

  • http://twitter.com/ngaloppo Nico Galoppo

    Adam, you totally sinned against all your salad on a plate beliefs!

  • MaSaBeMama

    have you ever added a spoonful of baking soda to the water when boiling during the quick soak? I don’t know where I learned this. The soaking water is drained and the beans rinsed and then cooked in fresh water — in theory this lessens the gassy effects. I’m also on the Mediterranean diet and am finding that my body is adapting to the beans.

    In addition I have had the good fortune to take cooking classes in Italy and one of the chefs did not soak canellini beans before cooking, as they were “fresh” albeit dried. They were done perfectly within maybe 2.5 hours and I have done this successfully stateside with bulk beans from Whole Foods.

    Joan

  • Anonymous

    Ha, funny! Though in that case I really wanted those greens to play off the egg and beans… so think of it more as a garnish. (Phew.)

  • MaSaBeMama

    just read the borlotti bean / polenta recipe and it sounds as if they aren’t soaked. yum!

  • Michele

    Adam, these were the best beans I ever made, and they cost me $1.89! I am looking forward to an olive oil fried egg over them tomorrow. How do you reheat?

  • Anonymous

    Hi Michele, glad you enjoyed them. To reheat, just add about 1/2 a cup of water, put the lid half-on and put the heat on low. Watch the beans, stirring every so often. If they look too dry, add more water; if too wet, take the lid all the way off, turn up the heat and stir until the liquid evaporates. Season with more salt. Enjoy!

  • Jessica

    Can you use the onion and garlic that you cooked with the beans for the aromatic part?

  • Anonymous

    Personally, I wouldn’t, though there’s a Spanish technique where you put the onion and garlic (out of the skin) in a blender with some of the cooking liquid, blend it up and stir it into the beans. Worth trying.