Magic. And beans.

Wow. I had heard it was true but I never bothered to test it until the other day.

I’m talking about beans, friends. Dried beans.

NOPE. Stop right there. Do not walk away. I am for so much serious and you will thank me when we are through here.

So. I had just about had it with my cannellinis when their little skins would just shrug off and be untasty and not play well with the rest of my dish. Hard skins, soft beans. Something didn’t seem right. When something is sold cooked, one hopes/expects it to be cooked consistently, na? I also disliked rinsing away the… bean-water (or whatever I’m supposed to call it). Not that I found it delicious or enticing (it certainly smelled like… a can), but its consistency and the fact that the beans had lived in there for most of their little bean-lives made me think it’d be useful for something. The whole thing just seemed wasteful and less simple than I like my doings to be. You know?

(“Oh yeah, gra. Totally feel you. I spend no less than 2 hours a day lamenting the state of my relationship with beans.”)

(Be quiet. You know you’ve thought about it. Anyway. Moving on.)

Don’t get me wrong: I love a cheap pantry item. And I certainly love a bean. Seasonless, versatile, filling, AND TASTIER THAN YOU HAVE EVER IMAGINED IF YOU COOK THEM YOURSELF.

Okay, I’ll calm down. Let me back up. It started a few months ago when I was reading some blog/column/thingo (I have just spent the last 20 minutes trying to track down the actual posting to no avail. You’ll just have to be with me on this.) in which the writer waxed downright romantic about plain ol’ beans cooked in water. Something about how even the “broth” that was created by cooking them (oh yes, they do mean bean-water. See?!) was tasty and complex. Something s/he couldn’t stop eating. So a seed was planted. But I think it was summer at the time and the last thing I felt like doing was soaking a pot of beans then boiling them into oblivion. I was busy judging then saying hi to Vince Vaughn on a bike on the lakefront path. True story. I’ll tell you sometime. Anyway.

Then, of course, this came out and it was all over. When MB tells me to jump, I not only ask him how high, but also whether he’d like me to pick him up a sandwich or something on my way back down. (Fangirl much? I know, I know.) I was also just tired of feeling like a rookie foodie: I mean, I make my own cheese, my own stock, my own roasted peppers and my own pesto. What was I doing eatin’ beans from a can still?

I also like having a legitimate reason to store things in old glass jars.

So off I trotted to the Whole Paycheck to find me some bulk beans. I figured, Obscure Food Mecca that it is, that the Paycheck would, on offer just for me, have several of those big plastic silos full of lovely beans from which to select.

You can imagine, then, my more-than-mild disappointment when confronted with only three bean varieties: garbanzo, kidney, and navy. Ew.

(I mean, no, not ew really. But no white beans? Really? Rachel Flippin’ Ray gets dried cannellinis at her “growsher” up in the Adirondacks! [Not that she uses them. But I won’t go there.] Why does my Snooty Food Emporium in the center of all things new-agey and progressive, home of everything from bulk wheatgrass to the stinkiest, moldiest, most delicious runny-ass cheeses this side of Marseilles [I’ve seen it. It lives in a small dome-like structure for maximum display-gloriousness. Someday I will buy it.] NOT have simple dried white beans? Not even in a bag? I will tell you what.)

But then again… navy beans, eh? They’re white… and just a little smaller than what I’m looking for. Actually… they’re kinda cute. And more importantly, I have no use for tons of kidney beans unless I’m making chili, nor for chickpeas, unless I’m making hummus.
So navy beans it was. I bagged ’em up, brought ’em home, sat ’em on my pantry shelf, and sort of looked at them for a few days. It was a friendly staredown, but I realized that soaking and cooking them was a process for which I’d need sufficient time and focus. (Only because it was the first time, mind; not because it was hard.)
Finally, on MLK Day, getting back into the swing of city things after three of the most surreal-yet-real days ever, I put those beans in their place.

Yep. In for The Big Soak. A bit later I cooked them up. The water began to thicken with the starches from the beans, and somehow, through what I can only assume is some type of Bean Magic, the pot began to smell like A Meal. Something more complex than just beans. Something like… soup. With chicken (but not). And vegetables (but not). Then, once the beans approached done-ness, they began to taste like A Thing Worth Eating On Its Own. Not just a bean – sorta starchy, proteiny, beany (which, as it turns out, is just Essence of Can) – but a Bean. Yeah, I get that I’m doing a whole signifier-Signified thing here but dudes: I wouldn’t rope Lacan into this unless there was simply no other way to explain what was happening here. Thus… we do not have beans. We have Beans: what small-b beans could only ever aspire to be.
I couldn’t stop dipping my spoon into the pot to figure out what had happened in the final 10 minutes or so to make all this taste so wonderful.
And yes – I even got a spoonful of just the bean-water/broth/whatever and you guys… it’s delicious.
Okay, so, for reference, here’s what I did:
adapted from Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything,” Revised Edition.
  • Rinsed about 1 1/2 pounds of dried white beans in a colander.
  • Threw those beans in a big pot and covered them with water by about an inch.
  • Put the pot in the fridge for 5 hours.
  • Went about my business.
  • Took the pot out, rinsed the beans again, put them back in the pot, and covered them with about 2 inches of fresh water.
  • Brought the whole pot to a boil, then turned the heat down to low-ish.
  • Simmered (you do want intermittent, tiny bubbles [ah, RIP Don Ho!] as this cooks) for about an hour and 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • At about 70-80 minutes, started to check for texture. Once ideal texture was achieved (that’s pretty mushy for me), I threw in a healthy grip of salt and some pepper and began tasting for… uh, no particular reason other than that it was delicious.
  • Froze half, fridged half.
Again: I can’t tell you how great this tasted. For dinner that night, I just put some of the fresh beans in a bowl with some fresh parsley, and drizzled olive oil over the top with a bit more pepper. That was it.
I realize I will probably always keep a couple cans of beans on-hand just in case; I’m not saying I’m going totally native here. But this is definitely one of those situations where, if you’ve got the bit of extra time to do so, making it from totally-total scratch is really worth it.


  1. …and then you can let me tell you about the voodoo of black eyed peas. (see also: ham hock.)*and by “tell you” i mean “momma-bird you.”

  2. hooo yes gra! lay it on me.

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