Friday, April 10, 2009
Black Beans with Mushrooms
I'm sure people who know me are surprised that this is the first bean recipe I've posted. Because, well; I love beans. This was not always so, in fact, growing up I hated beans. As was often the case, the issue was texture. I didn't learn to love beans until I cooked them myself from dried beans. The skins where soft, the interior creamy, and the flavor earthy and rich. Now I love beans any which way: in simple beans and rice, cold in salads, dissolving into an unctuous chili, adding body to a casserole, refried, mmm I LOVE refried beans..., I could go on and on. In addition to being delicious, they are extremely nutritious: high in fiber and complex carbohydrates and low in fat. While I think beans taste better when cooked from dried, I also respect the convenience of canned beans. I realize it is not possible in every situation to set aside a few hours to cook beans from scratch, and in these cases, I say open up a can. Any bean is better then none.
Beans are as ancient as civilization and intrinsic to most of the worlds traditional food cultures. They are most often served with grains, think: beans, lentils or tofu with rice; chili or baked beans with corn bread; succotash (lima beans with corn) and its Native American ancestor "the three sisters" (squash and beans with corn). Also: barley and lentils in Europe, pasta and bean soups in Italy, chickpeas with couscous in the Middle East and many others; even a peanut butter sandwich! And lets not to forget the innumerable "hippie" combinations dreamed up in the 70's that have a place in many households' meal repertoires. There is a reason for this pairing; grains and beans form a complete protein -- combined they provide all the amino acids we can't make ourselves. The possibilities are endless, delicious, and just happen to be cheap; a consideration new to many mainstream Americans. Also, if people would replace a portion of their meat consumption with beans they would be doing the environment a favor, as modern meat raising practices are more damaging to the environment then cars. (Buy local meat! know where your food comes from!) So if your not on the bean band wagon yet, wake up and smell the refried beans. (Ok, putting the soapbox away.)
This combination of savory mushrooms and meaty faintly sweet black beans is hearty, stick to your ribs good. Beans, caramelized onions and mushrooms form a savory base, while a light handed use of herbs and lemon and a garnish of sour cream round out the flavor. Add a generous shower of fresh ground black pepper and a side of rice and it brings to mind a kind of black bean stroganoff. This is a basic recipe that could be altered in many ways, and is just one of a countless number of dishes that can be made with this versatile staple. I used black beans because they are my favorite, but just about any kind of bean would work in this recipe, just adjust for cooking time. I made this pot of beans vegetarian, but they can alternatively be made with a couple of pieces of bacon chopped and fried in place of the cumin and chipotle pepper. Also the sliced mushrooms and herbs can be omitted and other veggies and spices swapped in to satisfy just about any flavor craving you can imagine.
1 lb dried black beans, picked over and soaked overnight (or use quick-soak method*)
2 lbs cremini mushrooms, 4 ground or minced, remaining sliced
4 tbsp canola oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 small dried chipotle pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp rosemary, thyme or tarragon
1 tbsp sugar
1 lemon, juiced
fresh ground black pepper
(* Amply cover beans with water and bring to a boil. Boil 1 minute, remove from heat, cover and let sit 1 hour. Drain, rinse and use as soaked beans.)
Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in dutch oven over medium high heat. Saute half the sliced mushrooms until they have browned and their liquid has been cooked off, remove and reserve. Repeat with an additional 1 tablespoon oil and remaining sliced mushrooms. (Cooking the mushrooms in two batches prevents excess moisture from inhibiting proper browning.) Lower heat to medium and add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to pan. Saute onions 10 minutes then add minced mushrooms and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until well caramelized, about 20 minutes. (Near the end, stir often and lower heat if necessary.) Add garlic, cumin and chipotle and saute 2 minutes. Add remaining herbs, beans, and about 2 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and skim scum from surface. Simmer 2 to 4 hours, skimming surface often and adding water as necessary. (There is such a broad time frame because cooking time depends on the freshness of your dried beans. I recommend getting beans from bulk bins at busy stores, as they seem to be the freshest I've found, and cook much faster.) Once beans are soft add sauteed mushrooms and sugar, and liberally season with salt and pepper. (The unseasoned beans will absorb a lot of salt. For best results do not to salt until beans are soft. Early salting extents cooking time and creates a tougher outer skin.) Simmer 10 minutes for flavors to marry. Stir in lemon juice, adjust seasoning, and serve with rice, sour cream, fresh ground black pepper, and raw onion if you like. Serves 6-10.