Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Magical Fruit

The finished beans and their emptied shells.

A magical fruit, indeed! (And for more than *that* reason!) Last week at the farmers' market I picked up some fresh shelling beans. I've never cooked fresh beans before and, in fact, had never really noticed them. They can be hard to find, but fresh shelling beans are often available at local markets in late summer and autumn. Out of season, or if you're unable to find them, you can use dried varieties from the grocery store or find all kinds of interesting heirloom varieties from Rancho Gordo (among other sources).

Beans can be so much more than the generic dried pintos available en masse everywhere. They can have distinct flavors and textures and can make some very interesting dishes. The ones I picked up are a variety of cranberry beans. They have bright magenta and white marbled shells. The beans themselves are cream colored with cranberry-colored swirls and roughly the length of a penny.

Shelled beans in the pot ready to cook.

As their name implies, shelling beans need to be shelled. The exteriors are too tough and stringy to eat. When buying them, the appearance of the shells isn't important. They can be pretty beat up and wrinkly shells can even mean the beans are more mature and larger. Depending on their age, the beans can be tender or quite firm. Test one out to see how long you'll need to cook them.
After shelling them, I covered my beans with an inch of water in a small sauce pan. As they were on the firmer side, I simmered them for about a half an hour. They should be creamy inside when they are done; if they are still a little crumbly, they need to cook longer. Interestingly, their crimson swirls fade to the point of nearly vanishing as they cook, leaving them a light beige color.

This time around I went with simplicity and tossed them with half a tablespoon of butter, a teaspoon of lemon juice, some torn up parsley, salt, and pepper. It made a delicious warm lunch on a cool autumn day without being heavy. These beans would also be excellent as a side dish, mixed in a salad, or as an alternative to pasta or other grains. So pick up some beans and give them a try-- and I won't judge you if you sing the song.

- Rori

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