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Articles / A Pot of Beans, Straight Out of Your Dreams

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A Pot of Beans, Straight Out of Your Dreams

Published January 3, 2023

A visual recipe for mastering and customizing this infinitely variable ingredient

We can guess what you’re probably thinking: Enough already with the beans. The New Year good-luck moment is over. Both facts are undeniably true: There’s already a lot here on legumes, including Mark’s basic bean cooking recipe. And we hope that those leftover black-eyed peas in the fridge will inspire you to cook a pot of something — it doesn’t even have to be beans — as part of your plan to eat better in 2023.

While we know many of you love beans like we do, today we’re taking a step back and attempting to demystify them for those of you who don’t cook them regularly — here, a master recipe in the form of a step-by-step guide. The model here is dubbed “Antipasto Big Beans.” But the point is that to fend off potential boredom, every pot can and should be different. This filmstrip of photos and captions identifies how and when to vary components and seasonings, while offering a simple technique for walk-away stovetop simmering without pre-soaking.

Obviously there are many methods for cooking beans, many of which are covered in The Bittman Project Recipe Archive—where there is a whole section on beans. Our hope is to spark conversation about your methods, sources, and ingredients, too. So let’s get started.

Pick your bean. Here, a shot of what was in the pantry. Clockwise from top left:

  • The large limas used here (often called gigantes)

  • Green baby limas (a little like the flageolet common to cassoulet)

  • Dried nixtamalized blue corn (known as hominy, posole, or pozole), included as a bean alternative as are wheat, rye, or whole barley kernels and raw peanuts or cashews

  • Disk-shaped tepary beans from the Sonoran desert

  • Mayocoba, a creamy and golden variety native to Peru that’s grown by one of the farmers at my local market

If you planned ahead and like to pre-soak, now is the time. (Mark’s recipe tells you how.) Figure a pound yields six to eight servings.

Frizzle something. Start by heating a thin film of olive oil (or more neutral oil, like vegetable or even coconut), and then add a little bit of meat. These are shreds of leftover holiday salami, but you could use anything previously cooked or start with raw chopped or ground meat or poultry (or sausage). (Shown is 6 ounces for 1 pound of limas.) To keep the pot plant-based, try bits of wakame or dulse seaweed, chopped nuts, or crumbled tofu or tempeh. If you’ve got a ham hock or bone or something smoked like a pork chop, links, or a turkey leg (a personal favorite), hang on to it; you can add it later.

Add aromatics. Once the base is browned, build in some seasoning vegetables like the leeks, celery hearts and leaves, red bell pepper, and garlic shown. Onions, ginger, lemongrass, carrots, celery root, fennel or anything else fragrant is fair game. Stir until softened, adding enough fat if necessary to keep everything glossy, then sprinkle with dried or fresh herbs or spices. These antipasto beans demanded bay leaves, lots of black pepper, and a dried Italian blend; other directions might be chiles, a curry blend or garam masala, or sprigs of thyme, cilantro, parsley or rosemary. Sturdy greens you want to all-but melt away — like collards, kale, escarole, or cabbage — are good to include now, too. When to add salt is somewhat controversial. Ultimately the effect is subtle, so do as you like. The salami here was seasoned, so no salt was added yet.

Add the beans. While the aromatics cook down, rise the beans in a colander under running water; run your hands through them to loosen any dirt and pick out anything that looks funky. Stir them into the pot. Now’s the time to toss in any bones or smoked meats.

Add the liquid. You’ve got lots of options: water, stock, canned or fresh tomatoes, beer or wine, fruit or vegetable juices—alone or in combination. Canned whole tomatoes and water seemed appropriate for this pot. Put in enough to cover the ingredients by about 3 inches, bring to a boil and lower the heat so the liquid barely bubbles, then cover the pot. The idea is to avoid jostling the beans around and breaking them up, while promoting even absorption. The cooking time is going to vary wildly depending on the bean size and how old they are. The more you cook them, the better you can judge. But we’ve had some chickpeas soften in an hour and others that take more than two. Lentils can be done in 30 minutes; these big limas took almost three hours. So just let the beans do their thing, checking on them periodically and adding water to keep them submerged, until they’re one notch less tender and soupy than you ultimately want them.

Add fresh finishes and reverse soak. Chopped pickled peppers are shown here. And now’s a good time to taste and add salt. This technique lets you fine tune the final results and sync the timing for when you want to eat. If you want to add herbs or tender greens — like chopped spinach, watercress, or arugula — toss them in the pot. Ditto anything to deliver a crisp-tender texture. (We’re thinking green beans or grated carrots or other root vegetables.) Make sure there’s enough water and bring the mixture to a boil; immediately turn off the heat and cover. Let the pot sit for at least 30 minutes or up to an hour. Taste and adjust the seasoning and rewarm if necessary to serve or cool the beans down to refrigerate or freeze and reheat later.


What will you do with beans? We’d love to hear from you and we’ll be watching the comments over the coming days to answer any questions or cheer you on.