Beans, Beets, and Buddies

This year, during the fast, I decided that I'd set a goal for myself to reach out to at least one person whom I haven't kept in contact with (even though I swore up and down that I'd never forget them, and we'd stay in touch). In a way, for me, it's almost as if I were doing wrong by them by not keeping up my side of the acquaintanceship. Mind you, things like facebook and twitter give an illusion of keeping in contact, but in reality, there are many folk with whom I have not had a good conversation, even though I deeply enjoy their company, and love talking to them. I felt guilty, and pledged to do something about it.

So I did. I reached out, and sent an email to a couple of people, as of Wednesday of last week. Today, when I got back to work, my inbox was filled with love from the people whom I'd lost contact with. If I am strictly honest with myself, I will likely end up losing touch with those same people again, but for now, our two souls have connected, and a small spark of kindness has been released into the world. There's just something about writing a letter to someone which (to me) is a lot more personal and meaningful than pressing a "like" button on something. I don't expect all my correspondences with people to always be deep and meaningful, but when they are, I enjoy them.

I'm not sure why I felt the need to share that, but I hope you didn't mind my little diversion into personal life, before I get to the beans of the matter (I don't think I'd enjoy getting to the meat of any matter; beans are quite lovely, thank you).

Beans and beets. Specifically, black beans and beets. Why had I never considered this before? Mind you, I'm personally not a huge fan of beets on their own. They're kind of challenging. The colour bleeds all over everything, they make a right mess of your counter tops, and if you stain your clothes, that stain isn't coming out (PS how /do/ you clean off beets stains from a white shirt without harsh chemicals?) any time soon. Black beans, on their own, are tasty ,but a little monochromatic when you're talking textures (and when aren't you talking textures, right?). Especially when combined with brown rice, the black beans feel a little alone.

This is why so many black bean recipes are loaded with onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Anything to get into that texture, and break it up a little. However, beets, in my opinion, are a lovely choice. Black beans sometimes depress me, because that beautiful black colour doesn't last. It seems to bleed out into the water (especially if you soak your beans before cooking), and the final beans are a dark brown, instead of black. With beets, it's the opposite problem. The vivid garnet and purple colours leech into the cooking water, and stain /everything/ that same colour, and the final 'do looks just awful.

However, when black beans and beets are combined, something magical happens: the two colours reinforce the other! The beans no longer bleach out, and the beets don't stain everything that awful medicine looking colour. Victory! This particular recipe is very simple, because I'm looking to make it for the beans and rice special (for which I may not use garlic, onion, soy, gluten, sugar, or black pepper).

6 cups of black turtle beans
3 large beets, diced
16 cups water
1 tsp thyme, or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp nutmeg
Salt, to taste

OPTIONAL: 1/2 cup of red wine

Simmer the beets and the beans together, until the beans are tender. If you chop the beets into 1 inch cubes, they'll cook at roughly the same amount of time as the beans. Add the thyme, nutmeg, wine (if you're using it), and salt. Let the beets and beans simmer together for another 10 minutes, or until the wine's alcohol-y smell has evaporated off. Serve with crusty brown bread, or brown rice.

With earthy flavours, like beets and black beans, I find that a little thyme and nutmeg complement each other beautifully. Please be careful with thyme. You can very easily overpower the dish if you're not careful. The wine helps round out the flavours, and gives just a touch of sweetness, while deepening the earthy flavours. If you don't drink wine, feel free to use about the same amount of apple juice or cranberry juice for the same results.Beets and mild sweet flavours go together very nicely.

Also, I've had about a thousand and one dishes that feature black beans and cumin and coriander. I wanted something completely different from stuff I've had before, so that I can challenge myself to think of different ways to use familiar ingredients.

Of course, feel free to augment the stew with shredded red cabbage, sliced carrot, tomatoes, or diced turnips.
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