Heirloom Beans

On January 1, 2014, we set a number of healthy objectives to tackle over the course of the New Year. One of the first matters of business was that of Meatless Mondays. Intermittently removing meat from one’s diet is not only a welcome change of pace for the body but it also helps minimize our carbon footprint. I am all about helping save the planet. It also serves as a personal challenge to successfully prepare a vegetarian meal that is satisfying, appealing and tastes brilliant. I have to be excited about what I am eating. Vegetarian cooking is also an opportunity by which to get creative in the kitchen. Experiment a little.

A famous chef who is a true champion for Meatless Mondays is Jamie Oliver. If you don't already, I strongly encourage you to follow him on Instagram. Every Monday brings beautiful photographs and links to recipes for vegetarian meals that can be prepared by you at home. I met Jamie once upon a time at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan. I had just moved to the city and learned that he would be participating in a book signing. So wait in an endless line during my lunch hour I did. I picked up two copies of his book Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You A Better Cook. He called me "darling" and marked up two copies with love. Insert swoon here. The one was a gift for my sister. The other is one of my trusted kitchen guides. His recipes will blow you away.

This past Monday, we abandoned the meatless ship and for good reason. The youngest child of our very close family friends in Charlotte – who we met in 1996 when our families were both new to the Queen City and constructed houses on the same street just a stone’s throw from one another – was celebrating her birthday. A big birthday – 29 years young at that. One step closer to 30. Worry not, I did not remind birthday girl of this revelation. I remember back when I was invited to what a peer coined “the cool kids club”.

For me, 30 years of age was an outstanding year. For my 30th birthday itself, we all met in the Big Apple including my Mom who flew in from Germany. We spent the morning at the Guggenheim and the afternoon shopping for a new dress for the birthday girl. For dinner, the Breyer girls enjoyed inventive sushi and seafood at BONDST. Following an early supper, my sister organized a grand fete with my closest pals at a new lounge in the West Village. The club owners turned out to be less than welcoming, which resulted in an epic mouthful from my sister. Those choice and now famous words are still spoken about today. She informed the owners of the money that would be lost with our departure and make ourselves scarce we did. Little sister did me proud that night.  It should be noted that the establishment didn’t have the grit or hospitality for the New York scene and closed up shop a pair of months later. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

A Breyer kid’s favorite, Kingswood on West 10th street, welcomed our masses with open arms. If you are ever in the Big Apple, go grab a cocktail there. The bar is intimate, cocktails inventive, they offer a fantastic wine list and the spot attracts an eclectic, cool crowd. They also serve an outstanding brunch. Order the avocado toast, salmon scramble or a burger. Sometime after midnight we ventured to Arthur’s Tavern for live jazz. From there, we explored the nooks and crannies of the West Village nightlife. The evening ended with a very late walk through an empty Union Square. The next day, the sun was shining and so we walked the Highline, grabbed brunch and later that day, I hailed a cab to La Guardia as I was flying to LAX for work the following morning. 

This past Monday night’s special celebration included a family dinner at the beautiful new home of the older sister. We were tickled pink to have been included. Birthday girl’s father prepared his famous steaks whose recipe dates back to our old neighborhood. All in all it was a lovely evening shaped by time with the family’s new blue eyed Weimaranar puppy named Captain von Trapp, laughter, multiple “remember when’s”, a gorgeous cheese tray courtesy of Trader Joe’s, Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, a great big salad and superb steaks. A lovely dinner party indeed.

So as to compensate for the gorgeous red meat we greedily devoured on Monday night, I declared Wednesday night a meatless one. Some time ago, I read an article in Food and Wine magazine about Rancho Gordo’s heirloom beans. I promptly went to the online store and ordered five bags. The owner, Steve Sando, is based out of Napa Valley and sells close to 30 different varieties of beans. Who knew such a selection existed. They are identified by wonderfully creative names and most are of the most beautiful and exotic colors. Nowadays, Rancho Gordo beans are used by numerous chefs in some of the globe's top kitchens.

What I like best about these beans is their cooking time. Soak them the night before to ensure a quick and painless process. I know that many are still fans of canned beans for the sake of convenience and trust me, I am with you but beans prepared at home taste a million times better. You determine what is added to the beans versus the canned variant that includes extra salt and other nonsense. Need to save time? Prepare them overnight or while you are at work in the slow cooker. I like to cook mine on the stove. These bad boys only took an hour after a night long soak.

I prepared Rancho Gordo’s Christmas lima beans, which as per suggested on the online store, I served with an assortment of sautéed mushrooms, lots of chopped garlic and extra virgin olive oil. To make the dish a bit more substantial for partner-in-crime, I also prepared some kale though this would also pair beautifully with steamed brown rice, quinoa or a nutty grain like farro. For you carnivores, add some meat! These beans are meaty, chewy and simply marvelous. Try incorporating more beans into your diet – soup, chili, salads, dips, cassoulet, stir fries, curries, burgers – the options are endless! I have four more bags to tackle and just ordered more today, so watch this space for future recipes.

Christmas Beans with Mushrooms

The Goods

1 package of Rancho Gordo Christmas Lima Beans
1 carrot – cut in half
1 leek – chopped
½ white onion
2 bay leaves
5 TBS olive oil plus a bit more for drizzling
3 punnets of chopped mushrooms – this go round I used oyster, shitake and cremini
4 cloves of garlic
1 head of chopped Tuscan kale – you can substitute other greens or leave them out altogether
1 tsp thyme
A couple of lemons for good measure
Kosher salt

In the Kitchen

1. Take your beautiful beans out of their packaging and rinse in cold water. Now put in a pot and cover with approximately 1 inch of water. Ideally, they need a minimum of six hours but for the sake of sanity, I soak them overnight.

2. Once you are ready to cook, drain the beans and return to the pot. Cover them with 2 inches of liquid. You can use chicken broth or simply water. Last night I used water. Now throw in ½ an onion (no need to peel it), the carrot (keep the end on if you want), the chopped leek, bay leaves and 2 TBS of olive oil. Optional – you can also add some chopped bacon to the mix to further enhance flavor. Bring to a furious boil for five minutes and then lower to a high simmer. Your beans should cook in approximately 1 hour. If you have more time, you can cook them more slowly on lower heat.

3. After an hour, your beans should be soft and ready for business. Do not discard of the water; simply add salt and any other spices you deem worthy to yield a delicious broth. By delicious, I mean to say you will stand over the pot and enjoy spoonful after spoonful.

4. In my new All Clad chef’s pan, I sautéed 4 chopped cloves of garlic in 2 TBS of olive oil on medium high heat. After three minutes, I added the chopped mushrooms and thyme. This should take around six minutes or so to cook. Once finished, I took them off the heat and added the remaining olive oil to the pan along with the kale. I stirred everything around, added ¼ cup of water and put the top on. Three minutes later, I had lovely wilted greens.

5. To serve up our food I used shallow bowls and added kale, mushrooms and beans. I finished ours with a conservative drizzle of olive oil, the squeeze of half a lemon, some kosher salt and a crack of pepper. If I were you, I would grate some hard cheese or sprinkle feta over the top. Bon appétit!

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