When I was a little girl, my grandmother had a woman who helped her out at home with cooking and cleaning. Mrs. Morvant made the best lima beans in the world. Her smothered corn was pretty damn good too. Anyway, I remember helping Mrs. Morvant shell the fresh beans that she would cook down forever. Her beans had just the right consistency, tasted a bit of whatever pig product she used to flavor them, and were seasoned to perfection. Like anything, I’m sure that these beans are better in my memory than they were in fact, but no matter, Mrs. Morvant’s limas left me with a thing for a nice big pot of beans. (Side note: If you have kids and have not read A Bad Case of the Stripes by David Shannon, you are missing out. It is about a little girl and some lima beans. You should definitely pick it up at the library.)
I had the hankering for a nice big pot of beans a couple of weeks ago and happened to have some dried white beans in my pantry. A pot of white beans with hot rice, fried fish, and a huge green salad? This was the perfect Saturday night dinner.
Unfortunately, I did not think to start my beans soaking the night before. But I did think to soak them at 10 a.m. in hopes for a 6ish dinner the same night. I used a quick soak method by covering my beans with water and bringing them to a boil, then letting them sit covered on the stove for an hour. Or maybe I let them sit for four hours. It was probably four hours.
I started cooking my beans using a recipe for black-eyed peas from John Folse’s Something Old, Something New. Let me just say - with no offense to Mr. Folse intended because he is awesome - that I am not a fan of this cookbook. I get the concept. The old school recipe is on one page and an updated version is on the facing page. My husband loves this book. This may be because he is not from Louisiana. I can’t say for sure. Either way though, I had made the traditional black-eyed pea recipe for New Year’s and found it pretty good. I thought I would try the updated recipe this time around, substituting white beans for the black-eyed peas.
First problem. The recipe called for spraying the bottom of the pan with cooking spray rather than using oil to cook the vegetables. Say what? That’s not going to happen. This might be the time to point out that this is essentially the only change to the recipe (other than using lean meat in place of regular pork sausage and smoked ham). I don’t know anyone who cooks down vegetables in cooking spray.
After cooking down my veggies in olive oil (I used three stems of celery, one green pepper, and one large white onion, all of which I ran through my food processor), I added my garlic (5 or 6 cloves, minced), dried basil (1 teaspoon), and meat (one full package of turkey sausage and a chunk of lean ham that was in my fridge and that I’m sorry to say I didn’t weigh, all cubed). I let that all cook down for a bit before adding my bay leaf, beans (1 ½ pounds), and water to cover the whole mess by an inch or so. The recipe called for water to cover by two inches but I have to admit that I did not use a big enough pot. I figured that I could add more water or stock later if needed (which I never did).
Once everything boiled for 30 minutes or so, I let it simmer for the requisite 45 minutes. Except that I actually let it simmer for two or three hours. The longer you have to cook beans, the better in my opinion. I did take a good sized bowl of beans out mid-way through cooking, smashed them up, and returned them to the pot. This makes the consistency of the whole dish a bit creamier with very little effort. I salted and peppered my beans as they cooked rather than just at the end. I’m sure there is a reason to follow the recipe on this one but seasoning at the end has never worked for me. Just keep your Slap Ya Mama handy and use it liberally.
These beans were delicious. Even my little kids devoured them and the leftovers were gone the next day after lunch. Give these a try when you have some time to hang around the house. Do yourself a favor and let them soak overnight first, but plan on letting them cook as long as you can. And fry up some fish. I promise some happy kids with this one.