fermented sichuan green beans or long beans

IMG_4042 IMG_5314Even the most stalwart food tinkerer can fixate on a single dish; indeed, it’s our calling card to cooking.  For me, it was fermented green beans.  I couldn’t resist the soured, greenbeany niblets of long beans in a Sichuan dish I had in Cambridge’s Kendall Square (the now sadly defunct Thailand Café) last spring.  Long beans are what string beans fantasize of being.  Sometimes called yard-long beans, they are good in Thai and Chinese stirfries.  I often use them in curries.

So sour grapes, er, rather, sour fermented beans were definitely a goal.  Minced pork with sour beans is a well known Sichuan dish, so as soon as I returned home, I made quicklike for my Fuchsia Dunlop library and immediately put up a quart of the beans in the manner she suggested: full of warm spices and punchiness like rice wine, ginger, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, etc.

Complete failure.

The alcohol inhibited the fermentation, so it turned olive grey and salty, but never achieved the sourness I was seeking. The ginger tasted weird.  The other spices were a distraction, but I wasn’t sure if they were the problem.

So I tried again without alcohol and ginger.  Still bad.

So I tried yet again, but this time sticking with the pure flavors of beans and salt.  Much better, but I had been keeping the beans whole, which created an odd, rubbery texture.  I had thought that it would help them stay intact and not quite so salty, but the tradeoff was not worth it.  And since Germans slice and pound beans in the fermentation process for sour string beans (and when have the Germans done anything wrong?), I thought I’d give it a try.

In the final batch, I chopped the beans into small pieces.  I added quite a bit of garlic, and there they were: delicious, sour, flavorful beans.  They were indeed a bit salty, so rinsing or soaking them before stirfrying them and declining any more salt or soy sauce in the dish is a good idea. The longer they sit in the refrigerator, the saltier they will get.  I ended up quickpickling more beans in the remaining brine, and they were good, too.

The soured beans were stirfried with some fresh green beans, ripe red pepper, and a beautiful variety of burgundy leafy greens sourced from Good Food Easy and Adaptive Seeds along with the minced pork.  No other seasonings needed except for a cube of frozen chicken stock for sauciness. Delicious.

Fermented Green Beans

  • Enough beans to fill a quart jar half to 2/3 full when chopped into small pieces
  • 5-6 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon of whey, sauerkraut juice, kimchi juice, or any other similiar live ferment to help along the process (optional)

Chop beans and peel and smash garlic.  Add to jar.  Mix up a brine with one quart of hot water and sea salt, stirring to dissolve salt.  Pour brine over beans, add optional fermented juice, weigh down beans with a weight or similar so they are submerged in brine, and let sit on the counter for 5-7 days.  Taste for sourness.  When they are sour enough for you (I probably went for 9-10 days, in all honesty), refrigerate and let cure for a week before enjoying.  Rinse or soak beans to remove some of the salt before using in a stirfry.

fast food lunch

Tacos with arugula from my garden and Open Oak Farm purple barley and ‘Marfax Swedish Brown’ beans sauced in a rich deep mole poblano from Barcelona Sauces out of Bend, OR.  I love these beans.  They’re beautifully plump and round, and they hold their shape well for recipes like frijoles de olla or baked beans.

improvised smoky bean and root vegetable soup

Campbell’s Bean with Bacon soup was one of my favorites growing up.  Quivering beige sludge with an occasional bean or mysterious fat cube, it was condensed.  You’d add a can full of water and slosh it around in a pot on the stove, then it would become soup.  It would cook up hot and salty, just how I liked it, and perfect with saltine crackers.

Even after leaving home, it was comfort food.  I remember with fascination and trepidation a particular old sandwich shop in Ann Arbor that would sell a bowl of it, sans attribution, for college student prices.  Maybe a buck fifty a bowl?  Perfect for a freezing day walking around without sense in Michigan.  (Drake’s closed a few years after my last visit in the late 80s, but there’s a wonderful photo set from that era here.)

I wouldn’t say no if someone put a can in front of me now, but I’d probably seize up over the salt content.  Actually, maybe not, since even Campbell’s realized it was over the top and reformulated the stuff into a “heart healthy” version (whatever that means) a number of years ago.

There are many ways to make your own bean-smoky-meat soup that are way more healthy than anything processed in a can, but if you’re lucky, they’ll still bring on that rush of nostalgia when you smell them in the pot.

I had a surplus of root vegetables from the CSA thanks to this frosty month, and thought I’d experiment with a bean soup that was as much about the veg as it was the legume.  This soup is more than its parts, so feel free to add more root vegetables than you think possible.  It will look like too many roots, but you’ll cook half of them down into the broth.  Don’t do anything ridiculous, like add beets, though. Stick with mild potatoey- or carroty-type roots.

Smoked ham or bacon or turkey is really not optional for this recipe, as it forms the broth.  Start the night before you’d like to serve it.  Flavor improves as it sits.

Improvised Smoky Bean and Root Vegetable Soup

  • Several pounds of mixed root vegetables: rutabagas, turnips, potatoes, celery root, etc., chopped
  • One large yellow onion, diced
  • 3-4 stalks celery, diced
  • a half dozen good-sized carrots and/or parsnips
  • Several cups of country ham (or a couple of ham hocks/shanks if you have those instead)
  • Greens: a bunch of kale, collards, green cabbage, head of parsley, escarole, etc.
  • Fresh herbs if you have them (I used a bay leaf, a couple sprigs of sage, and some thyme)
  • 2-3 cups of dried soup beans, which might be Hutterite soup beans, Vermont cranberry beans, Navy or Great Northern beans, etc.
  • salt and pepper

Soak your beans overnight and prepare the stock. Dice the onion, celery, and carrots or parsnips into small pieces.  Over medium heat in a medium-sized stock pot (5 gallons, perhaps), sauté ham (if using), chopped onion, celery and carrots/parsnips until they turn golden brown.  Add enough water to fill the pot about halfway, and add half of the chopped root vegetables, herbs, and the ham hock/shank (if using).

Do not add the beans or the other half of the vegetables yet.

Simmer stock on a low heat for a couple of hours, then cool and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, bring stock up to a simmer, then add the beans and cook until they are soft.  With a potato masher, mush some of them up to thicken the broth.

Now taste and salt the broth (salt needed will depend on the ham you’re using).  If in doubt, err on the less salty side, since you can add more later. Add the greens and the rest of the vegetables, and simmer another half hour or so until tender.

Adjust seasonings before serving with a hunk of country bread.

Serves many hungry people and freezes well.  Cats who appear to be innocently looking out the window from a far corner of the table so they won’t seem interested also enjoy it when your back is turned.

baked beans made fancy, sort of

I’ve been meaning to post this recipe for a while now, and now that it’s finally breaking 80 degrees for a glorious July 4 weekend, it seems like a perfect idea to turn on your oven for four hours.  Yeah, sorry.

But if you’re yearning for a better class of baked beans, baked beans with a difference that are simple as turning on the oven, read on.  And what better for your Independence Day BBQ?

Growing up, we didn’t eat many pulses since my Mom doesn’t like them.  But one thing we did eat was pork-n-beans straight from the can (thanks to my Dad).  I liked the sweetness and the mushy, starchy texture of the beans.  They often came with a funny, rubbery piece of fat in them that was as intriguing as it was unpleasant.  I always ended up with the fat piece, somehow.  I’d ponder it while I ate: is that the pork? Why doesn’t it have any meat on it? These beans don’t taste like pork.  Is that real pork or fake?

These are not the questions one should be asking while eating food.  And they won’t be questions you’ll be asking when you make this recipe.

I recently bought a sweet little flame-colored vintage Descoware cocotte, thinking it would be perfect for cooking à deux, as I do.  Turns out it’s a perfect bean-baking pot when you don’t want enough beans to fuel a party.

And I also happened to have some Ayers Creek-grown tarbais beans, a glossy, large white dried bean used in the winters in France for cassoulet.

I had molasses and extra-smoked (he’d say over-smoked, but I disagree) bacon from my friend Del’s smokehouse operation out at Laughing Stock Farm.

A perfect storm for baked beans.

The tarbais hold up beautifully with long cooking, and they were meatier than the regular navy beans we’re used to in Heinz’s cans.  Finally, I had a pork-n-beans that was less about the sweet tomatoey sauce and pork fat than the beans themselves — toothsome, dense, creamy beans.

You’ll need to soak the beans for a few hours or overnight, so start now.  This recipe is much smaller than the usual baked beans recipe, calling only for a cup of beans, so you’ll have to use a small dutch oven or lidded casserole.  Feel free to double the recipe, but cooking times may need to be longer.  Another option is to cook the beans in your slow-cooker, then reduce the sauce in the oven.  I haven’t done this because my slow-cooker is too large for such as small amount.

Note: in Eugene, you can buy tarbais at Provisions.  Lonesome Whistle has slightly greenish flageolets and yellow arikara beans that would be excellent.  Also consider steuben beans, or similar yellow-eyes or soldier beans, all of which are classified as an early American bean used for baked beans.

Baked Heirloom Beans with Pork and Molasses

Serves 4 as a side dish

  • 1 cup dried large white beans (tarbais, flageolet, Great Northern, navy, yellow-eyes)
  • 1 piece whole very smokey, thick-cut bacon, chopped finely (vegetarians may want to use liquid smoke, I suppose)
  • 1/2 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain mustard (optional — I like the crunch of the seeds)
  • 2-3 tablespoons of ketchup (optional — I use my homemade stuff for another layer of flavor)
  • salt to taste (try 1 teaspoon first)

Soak beans for several hours or overnight in water to cover.  Preheat the oven to 325.  Brown chopped bacon and onion until onion is golden brown; drain excess fat and place in your dutch oven or other oven-safe casserole.  Drain beans, and add to dutch oven and cover.  Add rest of ingredients to pot, then add enough water to cover the beans by about two inches.

Place in oven and cook until beans are tender, about 3 hours, depending on how old the beans are.  This year’s crop will take significantly less time.

When the beans are tender but not falling apart, raise heat to 350 and remove cover.  Taste liquid and adjust salt (it shouldn’t be too salty, as the liquid will be reducing, but shouldn’t be completely bland, either.)  The increased heat will boil away excess liquid to a syrup.  Watch the beans at this point so they don’t burn in the process.  Let cook for 30 minutes, then check in 15-minute intervals until the beans are a consistency you like.

frozen peas trick lady yearning for spring

Our first sunny day in weeks, or at least the first one I’ve seen because I’ve been stuck inside my claustrophobic office, back to the window.  Yearning for green!

I realized last year that I crave tender spring vegetables about a month before they’re ready, so I froze some shelled peas from my garden in May for precisely this moment.

No, they aren’t anywhere near as delicious as new peas, but with hand-cut fresh pasta, bacon, crème fraîche, and mint, they aren’t half bad.

I had some leftover pasta sheets from making a half-pan of lasagna, so I cut them into irregular ribbons, which cooked up light and tender in just a minute or so.

Happy spring! See you at the season opening of downtown farmer’s market tomorrow.

clean beans with hummingbird wholesale

Attention local food supporters and beaneaters!  The folks at Hummingbird Wholesale (with Slow Food Eugene) are looking for a couple dozen volunteers to sort and clean local dried orca beans next Saturday, April 2. Orca beans are those pretty black and white soup beans, also known as vaqueros or calypso beans.  Here’s a picture and recipe for orca bean and ham soup, what you may soon be eating, if you buy them!

This is a free event and kids are welcome as long as they respect the work party aspect of the event. Please RSVP to Erin Walkenshaw, the Hummingbird representative, at ewalkens@yahoo.com.  More information from an email they sent out, edited for space:

  • Hummingbird Wholesale Spring Bean Cleaning Spree
  • 2-5 pm on Saturday, April 2nd
  • First United Methodist Church, 1376 Olive Street, Eugene

Get a chance to take part in building up our local food system! We have a whole hill o’ beans and they need to be sorted! This is a very easy task, but hugely important in making locally grown legumes a reality in our area. So come on out after your trip to the Farmers Market and enjoy the good company that getting something done together creates. We need able hands to commit to at least two hours of bean cleaning, during the rest of the time you are welcome to munch on some food and make some new friends. We are also planning a few distractions to mix up the bean cleaning and keep things rolling.

Hummingbird Wholesale has 1,600 pounds of locally grown Orca beans that were recently harvested, cleaned, and delivered to our warehouse, but they are not sale-able as there too many immature or overly dirty beans mixed in. Usually, a distributor would return beans in this condition to the farmer, thus the farmer would take another loss in an already difficult season. Instead, we are aiming to clean the beans without adding to the cost.  To pay more to have the beans sorted again by machine or by hand starts to make them so pricey that they become difficult to sell. The last thing we want is freshly harvested, locally grown crops languishing in our warehouse!

We also want to give the (first-time) farmers a decent price for their efforts, so growing crops like this is feasible for them.  Our Orca beans were grown on a Polk County, third generation farm just north of Corvallis. The farmers are Tyler Gordon and his girlfriend, Kelly Behne, both of whom are completing studies at Oregon State University. They planted two acres of transitional organic Orca beans on the 300 acre farm, which is owned by Tyler’s grandfather. (Ed note: the rain and slug problem this year created considerable losses to the crop, so a gesture like this is important to show our support.)

dark days #19: eat like the locals chili

For the penultimate Dark Days winter eating local challenge this week, I’m showing off an adaptation of one of my favorite winter recipes.  The chili recipe isn’t remotely authentic to places that eat meat stews with chili peppers, but it’s my souped-up version of the Midwestern-style chili enjoyed in my younger days. With our variable spring weather, it’s just the thing after a cold, wet day of mucking about.

I feel very attached to the original chili recipe; indeed, it was one of my earliest Culinaria Eugenius recipes.  But the additives (sugar, salt) to canned kidney beans and a whopping 3/4 cups of processed A-1 steak sauce, plus a bit of ketchup, always bothered me.  One of the main reasons I underwent the messy, time-consuming process of making homemade ketchup last summer was in hopes of modifying this recipe in sufficiently tasty, locally sourced way.  I think I was a success.  I use quite a bit more homemade ketchup (1/2 cup, but I’d even go up to 3/4 cup), so the chili has a slight sweetness, and the allspice and coriander in the ketchup add subtlety to the mix.  I also added some onion powder and cumin to add more nuances.  Using a spicy dark beer (I used a local Christmas ale) rather than a lighter beer helped, too.  I played with the idea of adding things like molasses, more dark soy (with its molasses taste), orange zest or raisins (both ingredients in A-1) to align the local version with the original, but you know what?  I think it’s good enough as it is.

Yes, I still eat my chili with non-local saltines (or salted matzoh, as the case may be), and several of the spices are not local — most notably, the chipotles en adobo.  I might try to make the latter myself this year, since I always have plenty of jalapeños, and can smoke the chilis with our Weber.  We shall see.  But it remains crucial to use chipotles in adobo, since they add a strong smoky, chili-fleshed, garlicky, vinegary taste that is not easy to replicate.

This stew is very spicy, be warned.

I cannot for the life of me remember which farm grew the beautiful local kidney beans I used for this recipe.  I bought them months ago at Sundance market, and uncharacteristically, I threw away the label on the little baggie before writing down the name.  So thanks, farmers, whoever you are, for such a lovely bean.  (Anyone know the farm? Lost Creek Farm!  They’re the folks who suffered the freak hail storm last year that wiped out all their tender veggies.)  It wouldn’t have been the same with pintos or black beans, but you can, of course, substitute any hearty, thick-skinned dried bean.

Now excuse me while I sit back on my local laurels and feel very well pleased with my own fine locavore self.

Almost Plebian Chili Eat Like the Locals Chili

2 lbs. hamburger meat (lower fat better) (1 lb. local hamburger meat — I used Knee Deep Farms)
1 large yellow onion, chopped (local farm, storage)

1 T. chili powder (non-local)
1 t. black pepper (non-local)
1 t. onion powder (non-local)
1 t. cumin (non-local)

1 28-oz. can chopped tomatoes with puree (or substitute can of diced tomatoes and a half-can of tomato paste) 1 quart homemade tomato purée
2 15-oz. cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed (try to buy ones without added sugar) 4-5 cups cooked local dried kidney beans (under a lb. dried)
3/4 c. steak sauce AND 2 T. catsup (this is the “almost plebian” part) 1/2 cup homemade ketchup
2 T. Dijon (non-local)
1/2 lemon or lime, juiced a good slug of homemade lemon-garlic vinegar
3 or 4 canned chipotles in adobo, plus some sauce, chopped (don’t omit) (non-local)
1 T. sesame seeds (non-local)
1 T. dark soy sauce (especially if you’re not using beer) (non-local)
1 bottle beer or 1 cup water 1 bottle local dark, spicy beer (I used part of a 22-oz. bottle of Oakshire’s Ill-Tempered Gnome)

Note:  this recipe calls for cooked kidney beans.  Prepare the dried kidney beans by soaking them overnight, then cooking them in water doctored with a half of an onion, a carrot, and a couple of bay leaves until centers are creamy (1 hour or more).  Beans must be fully cooked before using them for this recipe.

Brown (A) on high heat in a dutch oven, preferably in two batches, but I’m not lookin’. Drain meat of extra grease. Turn down heat to medium low and add (B) to coat meat. Stir in (C), then cook for about 1 hour, covered, at a simmer. Tastes better the next day. Add salt only if necessary (and it probably will be if you localized the ingredients) and add more beer or water if the chili is not as soupy as you would like. Usually doesn’t need it, but if you use low-salt kidney beans or use less processed substitutes for the steak sauce and catsup (which I don’t recommend in this recipe), you’ll need salt. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, if that strikes your fancy, and/or pickled peppers. I prefer straight-up saltines and a beer chaser.