My dad would laugh if he knew how often I eat beans these days. Growing up I loathed the thought of the little legumes. My chili had to be solely meat-based. I didn't care how much bacon was in those baked beans, and don't even get me started on limas. They just weren't my thing.
My dad is the undisputed "Bean King" of the family. When visiting me in Paris, we shared long conversations on pintos, kidneys, and navies over a few bottles of red. He would lecture my broke ass on how buying beans instead of steak could save me enough money for retirement. He even wants to write a book about them. He harmlessly jokes about David's background... but I think we all know who the true "Beaner" really is here.
At the start of 2012, David and I challenged ourselves to become dietary vegans - meaning no animal products whatsoever, for one month. The goal was not to just mindlessly substitute our meat and dairy products with "veganized" alternatives, but to focus on eating real food. This posed as an all around food challenge. Finding various sources of our daily nutrients meant... crap... eating beans. The 30-day (ok, I lasted as a true vegan for about 3 weeks) vegan kick completely changed the way I saw food. We ate a lot of beans that month. Chickpeas so far have been my favorite, feeling the least "beany" out of them all. Plus, I can't get enough of Yotam Ottolenghi's hummus recipe in his new book, Plenty. I've truly come to appreciate the nuttiness of azduki, and the versatility of the common pinto.
Attempting to eliminate our canned food intake completely, David and I have abstained from using pre-cooked canned beans. One problem. I become easily frustrated with cooking dried beans. A lot of time and planning is involved in the process. First the beans must be soaked (usually the night before), then cooked for what seems like forever (depending on the bean, of course), and if you don't cook them at just the right temperature, you're left with a super mushy bean with a toothy skin.
On a recent trip to our local farmer's market, David picked up some fresh cranberry beans from Florida. I had never even heard of cranberry beans, much less cook a bean fresh out of the pod. I was excited. We got home, shelled them, plopped them in a pot and in a little under 2 hours, we were delightfully hooked on the world of fresh beans. No more cracked-open, mushy beans with more al dente-than-desired skins. These were creamy throughout, with a delicate skin that retained their bean shape beautifully.
Using up the remaining citrus and red watercress we had left after making Crispy Yellowtail Snapper with Red Watercress and Citrus, David and I threw together another Florida-inspired lunch.
Cranberry Beans with Spinach, Red Watercress and Citrus
1 bunch fresh spinach, stems removed
1 bunch red watercress, stems removed
2 ruby red grapefruit
2 cara cara orange
1/2 pound of cranberry beans, in the pod
1 small jicama
1 small shallot, minced
a few sprigs of fresh cilantro (can substitute parsley), stems removed, finely chopped
1 teaspoon freshly ground coriander
1/4 cup citrus juice (lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange... whatever you have left over or readily on hand)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
To make the vinaigrette, add all ingredients into a small container with a lid. Shake well until vinaigrette has emulsified.
*This makes about one cup of vinaigrette, so feel free to use the rest on future salads. Great for marinades too!
Remove the cranberry beans from the pod, and place into a medium pot covered with about twice the amount of water as there are beans. You can add some aromatics at this stage if you'd like, such as a couple of bouillon cubes or some slices of onion, carrots and celery. Bring this to a simmer over medium heat, and cook uncovered at a steady simmer, until the beans are creamy and fully cooked about 1-2 hours. Occasionally check the beans for done-ness. Once cooked, turn the heat off and let cool on the stove.
(These first two things can be done the day before if needed)
Wash the spinach and watercress and place on a paper towel or dry dish cloth and gently pat dry. Or, if you have a salad spinner, use it now!
Drain the cooked beans, and toss with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette to marinate while you are assembling the rest of the salad.
Peel the jicama, cut into quarters, and slice one quarter into very thin sheets. Alternatively, you can do this with a mandoline if you have one. Place in a bowl with the pre-washed spinach and watercress.
With a paring knife, trim the peel away from the flesh of the orange and grapefruit. Cut both into segments, and place into the bowl with the greens and jicama.
Add the marinated beans to the bowl and gently toss to combine. Add a couple tablespoons of the vinaigrette if needed - just enough to coat the leaves (if there is a lot of leftover vinaigrette from the beans, you may only need a teaspoon or two more of the vinaigrette).
Assemble on separate plates and enjoy! Serves 4.