Gifts can be challenging. When you reach a certain point in life you most likely have everything you need. The things you want may be so specific only you know what they are. So to be safe, I tend to give people gifts which disappear. Think candles, soap, food. One of the best presents to receive (in my opinion) is a new recipe! A few years ago our friend Missy served us some beans & greens and I have been happily re-making the dish ever since.
If you’re from the south, or to be honest if you’re from just about anywhere in the world they have a variation on this dish, you’re probably wondering, “What is so dang special about a plate of beans and greens?!” All I can say is lucky you.
When I was growing up we only ate two kinds of beans – Boston baked beans whenever we had hot dogs* or the occasional three-bean salad served at a family picnic. One summer I was taking a course in French and unwittingly had another bean experience. After six hours of conjugations, vocabulary, and enduring what even I knew was my embarrassing mispronunciation and mangling of the French language, a fellow classmate (who was a polyglot) took pity on me. One day when class ended we went to her favorite middle eastern restaurant on the edge of campus, where she introduced me to falafel & hummus pita pockets. At the time I was too ignorant to realize hummus and falafel were both made from beans. All I knew was they tasted amazing! Plus I didn’t need to try and speak french while eating it. So while I may not have been raised on beans, I have bean converted to their yumminess.
At its core beans and greens is a simple dish. Part of what can make it extraordinary are the ingredients you use. Yes, you could use the beans you bought six years ago – and forgot about at the back of your cupboard – but would you really want to? If you are lucky there may be a more recent stash of dried beans in your pantry left over from the Pandemic shopping you did in 2020. They should be fairly fresh. Now that people have eased back on their hoarding of shelf-stable foods, finding dried beans at your local supermarket is much easier. If you are willing to go on a bean hunt, the best option of all may be to try and find some fantastic heirloom beans.**
What I love about greens & beans is the simplicity of the dish, but what has me coming back to it again and again is its versatility. Beans & greens are the culinary equivalent of your favorite pair of blue jeans plus an adorable cocktail dress, all rolled into one.
The first time I was served a bowl of beans & greens it was accompanied by a generous glug of really zippy extra virgin olive oil from California, some freshly ground pepper, along with a generous spoonful of locally made ricotta cheese which melted into the warm beans. All of that yumminess was topped off with some kale and rainbow swiss chard sautéd in olive oil with garlic. Since then, I’ve come to appreciate the dish is also a proverbial food unicorn, which magically adapts to a variety of dietary choices and needs.
Vegetarians & Gluten-free – fine as is
Vegans & Dairy-free – leave off the ricotta
Omnivores – add a grilled lamb chop or chicken breast
Pescatarian – serve with a firm fish poached or broiled
The flavors in a pot of beans get better after they sit for a day, so I always make extra. Keep in mind beans do take some time to cook. Even a fresh batch of dried beans will require a few hours of gentle simmering, though it isn’t always necessary to pre-soak newer beans. If you are unsure of your bean’s age do pre-soak them.
Beans & Greans
1 pound beans – my favorites are cannellini beans, but most any dried bean will do
small to medium sized onion, peeled and chopped
1-2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1-2 celery sticks, peeled and chopped
salt & pepper to taste – once the beans are cooked, not as they are cooking since salt added too early can toughen the beans
1/2 – 2 bunches of hearty winter greens – kale, collard, swiss chard, broccoli rabe
EVO – extra virgin olive oil
Fresh ricotta or chevré
Depending upon where you get your beans there may be the occasional stone found with the beans. Discard the stones unless you want yourself or one of your dinner guests to visit the dentist.
As I mentioned before, if you do not know how old your beans are I recommend soaking them in cold water (to cover by an inch) overnight. If you forget to do that, put the beans in your cooking pot and pour boiling water over them for a quick soak while you eat your breakfast. Some people throw out the soaking water, others use it to cook the beans with. It is up to you.
With fresh (or freshly soaked beans) put in a heavy pot and cover with water. I just add the mirpoix (onion/carrot/celery), some olive oil, the bay leaf and thyme if you are using it. Conversely, you can sauté the vegetable mix in the pot first, then add the beans and cover with water. The size of my vegetables depends on how much time I want to spend slicing and dicing – some days it is microscopic, while other days it is approximately the size of peas or small chunks. Again, it is up to you.
Bring the beans to a hard boil, and boil for 10-15 minutes. Partially cover the pot, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook until soft or with a bit of “bite” left in them. Every so often give the beans a stir and check the water level. If the water level falls below the top layer of beans top it off with some boiling water from your tea kettle. Just remember with this dish you’re making beans with their own “gravy” rather than bean soup.
The cooking time varies so much depending on the size, freshness, and volume of beans you are cooking. Rather than give you an exact time when they will be done, I’ll just say to fish out one bean every so often and take a bite to determine how soft it is. When the beans are al dente it is time to season with salt and pepper. Then turn off the heat, cover the pot and let everything sit for a bit while the flavors meld together.
At some point in the bean cooking time wash your greens, de-stem them, and chop. Leaves in one pile and stems in another. I sauté the stems in olive oil first with bunch of chopped garlic. Right before it is time to eat, throw in the leaves and finish cooking.
Serve with toppings listed above. Add a crusty loaf of bread for a filling and delicious no-fuss meal. Or have the beans and greens as a delicious side to a grilled lamb chop, piece of chicken or fish. There really aren’t any hard or fast rules on how to serve this dish. Just relax and enjoy.
Another type of gift I like is the gift which keeps on giving. While beans & greens will keep our tummies warm, last year we finally decided to keep our house a bit warmer too. My husband’s and my gift to ourselves was a Danish Mørso wood stove. It is very small, but gives out a delicious amount of heat. After the wood stove was installed, we watched the thermometer go up, up, up. It occurred to me I no longer had to spend the entire winter wearing socks. What a concept. If our dear Jack Russell, Oliver (2007-2019) was still with us, I know he’d want his dog bed as close to the wood stove as possible.
*When eating Boston baked beans we always chanted this childish song,
Beans, beans the magical fruit.
The more you eat, the more you toot.
The more you toot, the better you’ll feel.
So eat your beans at every meal!
**This is not a sponsored post. I just happen to think Rancho Gordo beans are amazing. Yes, they are more expensive than other dried beans, but in my opinion they’re worth the price difference both for their freshness as well as the number of varieties they sell. Your greens (and your tummy) will thank you. Note as I write this post they are currently sold out of many of my favorite varieties due to all the home cooking people did while staying at home because of Covid-19 – 2020 wasn’t just about sourdough.
Here is the last note on beans – our daughter’s new kitten, whom she named Bean. Found on Christmas Eve, after someone abandoned him in a parking lot. A one pound bag of dried beans weighed more than he did when she adopted him.
A holiday Bean.
A furry Bean.
A purring Bean.