6/15/10

Three pots of beans, bubbling away

This morning, when I got to work, I realised that we were out of hummus, pate, and beans. OK, maybe not completely out, per se, but rather that we were running dangerously low on those items. In most places, this would mean placing an order to a company, or opening a tin of something or a box of something else. Both boss man and I have seen restaurants getting deliveries, and the picture is pretty grim. Over here, however, that means that we need to now have three separate pots of beans, bubbling away busily.

Because they take the longest, and can be the most finicky, I set the chickpeas into the slow cooker first. The pate was running lower than the beans (because we have a beans and rice special every day, so we need a different bean cooked every time we're running low of the previous one), so I set the lentils to boil next. Finally, came the beans of the day. I had some really nice dried haricot beans that I wanted to cook. Hmm. What to make?

It's summer, so might as well showcase slowly cooked tomato, and all the beautiful herbs that are coming in from our produce vendor. I decided to make cassoulet. For those unfamiliar with French country style cooking, a cassoulet is France's answer to baked beans. It's cooked very slowly, with plenty of herbs and other ingredients readily available on hand. As fans of the Chow know, the beans special cannot contain any garlic, onions, soy, gluten, sugar, or nuts. It's meant to be that one dish that you can get if you're allergic to everything, but still want something tasty.

How can I build up flavours if I can't use the traditional soup ingredients, like onions or garlic? Easy. I can slowly cook the beans, then add flavourful stocks. The most simple stock is one that I like to do when I can get my hands on dried shiitake mushrooms, kombu, and nutritional yeast. Something about the combination of the earth and the sea just makes the whole thing so tasty yet so subtle. Of course, I would also be relying on heaps and heaps of herbs, so I wasn't too worried about the end product!

I cooked the beans together with the herbs, over low heat, and undisturbed. If you stir haricot beans too many times, they tend to break up and beecome mush. It's best to just let them simmer very slowly. While the beans simmered, I soaked some shiitake mushrooms (dried) and kombu in a fair bit of water. Every time that the water from the cooking pot would get too low, I would replace it with my shiitake mushroom stock. This helped the beans get seasoned slowly, but didn't slow down their cooking (because of the inherent salt found in the kombu). Then, just as the beans were becoming tender, I stirred in a generous slurp of extra virgin olive oil, nutritional yeast, and tomatoes that I had pureed in the blender and sieved to make a smooth puree.

When the beans were cooked through, I seasoned them with salt, and checked to make sure everything was as it should be. It was! However, it needed something more to give it some weight and filling quality. In went a few pounds of roasted potatoes, and the shiitake mushrooms that I had used to make my mushroom stock. I tasted it again, and felt that it could use one final boost of flavour.

Hickory salt.

In went a few good pinches of hickory salt, and the beans were seasoned to perfection.

If you have time at home, go ahead and give it a shot in your kitchen. It's a tasty dish, and fairly inexpensive. If you want a more lazy version, just dump all the ingredients (potatoes, onions, garlic, herbs, beans, chopped tomatoes, pureed tomatoes) into a large casserole dish, and bake it in the oven for four or five hours. I know I didn't add garlic and onions to the one here at Chow, but that doesn't mean that you need to abstain at home!
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