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Full of beans

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Yesterday we had our gaming group coming for the evening and it was my turn to cook. I was not feeling very inspired, menu-wise, but then while I was on the treadmill at the gym, The Chew was on and they were talking about it being Fat Tuesday and the tradition of red beans and rice. I’ve never made red beans and rice before, but I ticked off the basic ingredient list in my head, realized I had everything for it at home, and figured I’d give it a try.

Part of the reason I had everything for it at home was because I knew I had lots of dried beans. I had lots of dried beans because they’ve come as part of the CSA. And they were still around because I was completely intimidated by dried beans.

You see, I had tried, in the past, to learn how to cook beans. I had soaked them overnight. And the skins split and the beans turned mushy. I had not soaked them. And the skins split and the beans turned mushy. I had tried adding salt, not adding salt, adding baking soda or vinegar. Always with the same result: split skins and mush.

So for a couple of decades, all bean dishes in my household used canned beans. I never bought dried legume more challenging than lentils. I was resigned to the fact that beans were simply beyond me.

But now bags of them were taking up space in my cupboard. And, unlike the occasional fresh produce that doesn’t appeal to me and eventually turns black and slimy in the back of the fridge and then gets thrown out, beans don’t go bad and give you an excuse to toss them. Those bags weren’t going anywhere. They were just perched there, a silent testimony to my culinary failure.

Something had to be done. And that something was NOT going to be making a bunch of corn hole bags with them!

Besides, I now have a pressure cooker. And pressure cookers are supposed to be good at making beans. So I decided to give it a shot. The recipe said to clean and pick over the beans (and sure enough I found a couple stones), then place them in the pressure cooker, cover them with water, and set the cooker for 20 minutes.

At the end of 20 minutes, I released the pressure and found…slightly softened beans. But at least they still had their skins. I added more water, reset the cooker for another 10 minutes, and ended up with beans that were still inedible.

In all, it took 40 minutes of pressure cooking. But in the end I actually had edible, unmushy, jacketed beans. And red beans and rice into which I had substituted chicken and chicken sausage to make it healthier. And so here are the instructions. Disclaimer: this is just what I did in my kitchen, not a tested, professional recipe. It was, however, praised highly by my fellow gamers.

Red Beans and Rice

2 cups small red beans, dry
2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
3/4 cup celery, sliced
4 chicken sausage, sliced
4 chicken breasts, diced
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 cups kale, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

4 cups hot cooked rice

Cook the beans in the water and stock. Good luck. (Alternatively, you can use canned small red beans, approximately 4 cups.)

Saute the veggies in the olive oil until they are soft and beginning to brown. Add the chicken, the sausage, and the herbs and spices. Cook until done.

Add all that to the cooked beans. Add the kale in batches–it will seem like a lot, but it will cook down nicely. Simmer together for half an hour or so, adding additional water or stock as needed, then taste to adjust the seasonings and add the balsamic vinegar.

Spoon the hot rice into individual bowls, then ladle the bean mixture over the top. Serve with cornbread.
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