Saturday, February 27, 2016


On a chilly Saturday afternoon (snow dusts the nearby mountaintops!), nothing is quite so comforting as a pot of beans simmering on the stove. 

Pinto beans cook with ham bone, carrots and potatoes.

Legumes—dried beans, peas and lentils—are a mainstay of Spanish cooking. In village homes, stews, soups and potages made with legumes might be served several times a week, year-round.

Legumes are an excellent source of dietary fiber and protein and are very low fat. However, in Spanish dishes, they are frequently combined with small quantities of fatty meats and sausages, which add much flavor. But beans and chickpeas also show up for Lenten meals, cooked with salt cod or completely vegetarian.

Dried beans (alubia, habichuela, judía, bolo, lingote, fabe, fesol, fríjol, fréjol, frisuelo, pocha, mongete) come in many colors and sizes. The most common is a large white kidney bean, somewhat similar to a cannellini bean. The judión or fabe is an even bigger white bean, prized for cooking the Asturian bean dish, fabada. In Valencia, dried lima beans or butter beans, called garrofón, are an essential ingredient in authentic paella. They may be white or white tipped in brown. The speckled Tolosa red bean, which has a wonderful creamy consistency, is much used in Basque dishes.

Dried beans are usually soaked 8 hours before cooking. Hard water toughens legumes in cooking. If you have very hard water, try soaking and cooking them in bottled or filtered water. They will cook tender much quicker. My well water is extremely hard, so I add a pinch of baking soda (bicarbonate) to both the soaking water and cooking water.

Beans are somewhat less gas-producing if you drain off the soaking water and put them to cook in fresh water. Cooking them long and slow is the best method.

Put the beans to cook in cold water. Cooking time varies with the variety--anywhere from one to three hours. (A pressure cooker is fine for cooking legumes because it shortens the cooking time.) Spanish housewives say you should asustar the beans--give them a "scare" while they cook—when they are partially cooked, add a half-cup of cold water to “shock” them. Always keep beans barely covered with liquid so their skins don’t split.

If I’m cooking beans, I cook twice the amount as called for in the recipe, removing half of them when partially cooked to store in the freezer for another day. They are a good starting point for a pot of chili

Today I'm cooking pinto beans with a ham bone and a few vegetables. La Mancha style, these are served with a garlicky ajiaceite sauce.

Spoon creamy garlic sauce over the beans. Add pickled peppers and onions.

Pinto Beans with Garlic Sauce
Bolos con Ajiaceite

This is a recipe from La Mancha (central Spain), where pinto beans are favored. It can be prepared with any dried beans.

Ham bone for flavor.
A chunk of serrano ham bone adds a huge amount of flavor to the beans. (Pictured is a whole ham hock, which is sawed into four or five pieces.) However, the cooked meat is stringy and not very palatable. So I add a piece of fresh pork, pancetta, smoked pork or sausages to the beans along with the bone. To make a vegetarian version, simply eliminate the meat and add olive oil and a teaspoon of smoked pimentón (paprika).

This garlic sauce, known elsewhere in Spain as alioli, adds a sumptuous touch to ordinary beans. Spoon some of the sauce over the cooked beans and let each person stir the sauce in. The sauce is also delicious as a dressing with cooked vegetables.

Serve the beans with pickled onions and guindillas, mild green chiles, on the side.

Serves 4-6.

1 pound pinto beans (2 ¼ cups), soaked in water to cover for 8 hours
1 pound meaty ham bone or pork hock
½ onion
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 bay leaves
Sprig of thyme
2 ½ teaspoons salt
2 carrots, sliced
2 medium potatoes, quartered
1 egg
2 cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon vinegar
Pickled onions and peppers, to serve

Drain the beans and place them in a soup pot with 6 cups of water. Bring the beans to a boil and skim off all the foam that rises to the surface.

Add the ham bone, onion, celery, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring again to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer the beans 1 hour.

Add 1 cup cold water to the beans and bring them again to a boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt and the sliced carrots. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook beans until tender, about 1 hour more.

Add the potatoes to the beans. Cover and cook until they are very tender, 30 minutes.

Skim out 2 chunks of potatoes. Keep beans warm on a low heat.

Place egg and garlic in a blender and blend until smooth. Add the 2 chunks of potatoes and blend. Blend in the oil to make a thick sauce. Blend in remaining ½ teaspoon salt and the vinegar.

Place the beans in a large serving bowl. Separate the meat from the ham bone and add to the beans. Spoon some of the garlic sauce over the beans. Serve remaining sauce separately. Serve pickled onions and peppers on the side.

More recipes for beans, chickpeas and lentils:

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