Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Savvy Sides

Rachel here: So, first, thank you John (my partner) for dutifully holding the bowl of beans in various relations to the overhead light in the kitchen. You were very patient while I attempted to find decent lighting, which I know was difficult because I got caught up doing my homework and started dinner way too late and so by picture time you could hear both of our stomachs screaming "Feed me!". You are a good man for many reasons, this being just one of them.

So, evidently we eat a lot of beans in my house. I hadn't realized this until we started this blog, but after making my second bean-based dish in two weeks, it seems undeniable. We are still transitioning into our new place (oh, it's so nice to cook here!) so when my mom and I decided to do a side dish for this post I immediately decided to make black beans.

Black beans (and beans in general) are wonderful for so many reasons. Firstly, they're quite good for you. You really can't go wrong by incorporating beans into your diet if you don't already eat them regularly. Secondly, they're versatile. With slight variations you can pair beans with just about anything (even ice cream...if you haven't tried red bean ice cream, DO because it's super yummy) and then, if you have leftovers, play around with those beans and pair them with something completely different. And lastly, beans are wonderful because you can buy them dried in bulk and store them in your cupboard and pull them out whenever you are at a loss for what to cook (Personally, I have half a shelf in my *new walk-in pantry* filled with various glass jars filled with various dried beans and labeled for quick access). Rice and beans? That's the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions in my book. But anyway, I digress a bit.

As I mentioned above, beans are quite versatile. One of the approaches I take to making beans sometimes is to use up partial things in my fridge. In this light, the recipe I am posting below is just a suggestion for how to approach black beans. You can use it as a taste guideline and experiment from there. For instance, though I didn't this time, a bit of citrus juice can be quite nice in beans, as can chopped peppers etc. It all depends on what sort of flavor you're going for (mine have a bit of kick to them). Anyway, what do you do with your beans?

A Little of This, a Little of That Black Beans
serves 6-8 as a side

2 c. dried black beans, sorted and rinsed and soaked in water that has boiled (covered by an inch or so) for an hour and then drained
1/2 T. oregano
3 bay leaves
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
chili powder

In a large pot, combine your 2 c. of prepared black beans (see ingredient instructions) with 5 cups of liquid (I used a combination of water and leftover beef stock from the French Onion soup I made last weekend). Add all ingredients, including cayenne and chili powder to taste. Simmer for about an hour to an hour and a half until beans are tender and ready to eat. Serve!

Janet here: I just discovered shallots this past year and I am now trying to make up for all those lost decades. So when we decided to do a side dish, I knew mine had to include shallots. The photo really says it all: this dish is only nominally about the string beans; it's really about the shallots with the string beans as a very decided after note.

Anyway, for years I VERY WRONGLY assumed shallots were really just onions so really how important were they to a specific recipe? (I also didn't really think the kind of onion mattered. Clearly I became a wiser woman once I hit 50.) What I was completely oblivious to is their incredibly subtle, slightly sweet taste, and the realization that of course using a shallot will make a recipe entirely different than if you just chop up a yellow onion. So without further ado, my simple side that takes just minutes to whip up.

String Beans with Shallots
(although it's really the other way around)
serves 3-4


olive oil to taste
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 pound string beans, washed, ends cut off
3-4 shallots, peeled and diced
salt and pepper to taste

stir fry the string beans and shallots, turning frequently, until the shallots are translucent and the string beans are just cooked. Salt and pepper to taste.

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