Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew, courtesy of Michael Ruhlman

Hello! I feel like I’ve been away forever. And I’m not sure why. I think it’s because my food life has been taken over by trying to become gluten free. Which has been interesting, if difficult. Also, I had house guests for a few days. Plus there’s work. Yoga. My garden. Book clubs. Plays. Music. Friends.

Let’s face it: this effort I’ve been making over the past couple of years to rebuild my life after my marriage ended? It’s worked. My life is rich and full. The downside is that I find myself less and less interested in writing about what I’m doing. But, thankfully, this isn’t true for everyone. For example, Michael Ruhlman, who posted this inspiring entry about a conversation he had with Cleveland Clinic Preventative Medicine Physician Roxanne Sukol.  (I got my computer fixed and now the link feature works again!) They talked about food and nutrition and, at the end, he shared the following recipe. Which I’m planning to make for dinner tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you try it, please do the same.

Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew
(adapted for Michael Ruhlman’s kitchen and then again, for my style and the contents of my pantry)

1 cup of your favorite beans (I’m using Mother Stallard, from Rancho Gordo)
1 quart/liter water
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 Bay leaf
1″ piece of kombu
Pink Himalayan (or Kosher or any other) salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine everything except the salt and pepper in the insert of your slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low in a slow cooker for 7-8 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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Cranberry beans in tomato-fennel sauce over polenta with Parmesan

I made this last night for a very small dinner party with two trusted friends. cranberry beans with tomato fennel sauce over parmesan polentaA safe environment for a gamble, in case it didn’t turn out. The photo is terrible because we didn’t eat until late, after talking for two hours while drinking wine, so the photo was an act of duty, without regard to aesthetics. But omg — all I can really say is yum. Which is what I said at least three times while eating. Because I was trying to restrain myself. It is, after all, somewhat unseemly to freak out over the goodness of your own cooking.

To balance things out a bit, my praise was not entirely self-directed. Unfortunately, this is not an original recipe. I got it from theKitchn, who in turn took it from Rancho Gordo. Here’s the link. (http://bit.ly/17RQGQ4) And here’s the recipe, which I followed almost slavishly. My only departures were these: I used frozen borlotti/cranberry beans, I didn’t add butter to the polenta, and I didn’t add parsley or extra cheese to the finished plates. Oh, and I used 1 small yellow onion instead of half a medium onion as in the original recipe. A friend recently suggested that cut onions absorb all kinds of nastiness if stored in the fridge. This appears to be mere rumor. (http://bit.ly/JWhiqo) But, just to be on the safe side, and also because I have been cooking less and therefore never seem to use the other half of a cut onion, I’ve started buying the smaller ones.

Okay. Now. Recipe. It’s seriously worth your time. The individual textures of the diced fennel, the tomatoes, and the beans remain distinct, creating a pretty exciting mouth feel, while the flavor is a delicate balance of sweet richness. The savory polenta is the perfect balance. I highly recommend. It made for an entirely satisfying and delicious vegetarian, gluten-free main course. You could make it vegan by subbing oil for butter and eliminating the cheese. But man. That would be a bummer. The dairy is good here. Enjoy.

Serves 4 to 6

Tomato Sauce
3 T. unsalted butter
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and diced medium
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt
1 small carrot, peeled and shredded
One 28-ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes or plum tomatoes
Freshly ground pepper

2 cups drained, cooked cranberry/borlotti beans
1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Polenta
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup polenta

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a small dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, fennel, garlic, 2 teaspoons of the oregano,  red pepper flakes, and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 8-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and fragrant. Grate the carrot directly into the pot, stir, and saute for another minute or two before adding the tomatoes. Add another pinch of salt and stir for a couple of minutes to break up the tomatoes.  Reduce the heat to low and cook, uncovered, at the barest simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 2-1/2 hours, until the tomatoes are reduced and beginning to separate from the oil. Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oregano and salt and pepper to taste. The sauce can be made up to this point 1 or 2 days ahead. Let cool and refrigerate.

frozen borlotti beans

For the beans, I highly recommend fresh or frozen beans if you can find them. Indeed, the reason I decided to make this dish was my recent discovery of frozen Borlotti beans at my favorite local grocery store, HarvesTime Foods. (http://bit.ly/ecrXBw) Borlotti beans are also known as cranberry beans, which, as I’ve posted about before, are my favorite beans. (http://bit.ly/19Kknpx)

To cook them, bring a pot of water to a boil, salt, and add the beans. Cook for 20-30 minutes, until tender. Drain, rinse, and add them to the tomato sauce after it’s finished cooking and sitting either off heat or in the fridge. They’ll absorb the flavor of the sauce. Extra deliciousness.

About 45 minutes before you plan to eat, make the polenta. (It will be okay if it winds up being more than 45 minutes, as happened last night.) Boil the water in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add the salt and, whisking continuously, slowly pour the polenta into the water in a thin stream. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 40-45 minutes, stirring frequently, until the mixture thickens and the polenta begins to pull away from the sides of the pan. Stir in the Parmesan and season with pepper. Cover to keep warm. 

About 10 minutes before you’re ready to serve, warm the beans and tomato sauce over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally. Spoon the polenta into warmed shallow bowls and make a well in the center of each serving. Spoon the tomato sauce into the well.

I served this with my favorite simple salad: arugula with thinly sliced fennel and shaved Parmesan, lightly dressed with walnut oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper. It was crazy delicious good.

Cranberry bean gratin with potato leek soup and arugula salad with fennel and parmesan

Tonight I had a friend over for dinner. On a Wednesday. cranberry bean gratinWhich is super fun and exciting. Because, while I love to entertain, I don’t do it that often these days, particularly on weeknights. But unlike my extravagant mole for one, this dinner only took about an hour of active time in the kitchen. Indeed, I worked all day, at the office, while the cranberry beans were in the slow cooker. So all I had to do when I got home was throw the gratin together, cook soup, and chop fennel for the salad.

For the beans, I decided to experiment and use the cranberry beans from Rancho Gordo. I figured they would stand out in the gratin. Which they did. But honestly? They were no better than the Goya beans I buy from the market down the street for $2, as opposed to $5.99 plus shipping for fancy imported beans. From here on out, there are definitely some beans that are worth the extra money, like Vallarta, Rio Zape, and probably others that I haven’t tried yet. Not cranberry beans, though.

Now, recipes! The gratin is based on an Alice Waters’ recipe that I found in Elizabeth Berry’s Great Bean Book. (http://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Berrys-Great-Bean-Book/dp/1580080316) The original recipe is titled “Fresh Shell Bean Gratin.” Since it’s February in Chicago, fresh shell beans are not an option. But I figured dried beans would be adequate, if not quite as delicious. I also changed the original by subbing kale, which I had leftover in the fridge, for swiss chard. Otherwise my version is pretty true to the original recipe.

Gratin
3 c. cooked cranberry beans, with about 1 c. cooking liquid
salt
6 T. extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 Vidalia or other sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, slivered
1/2 t. dried sage
1 c. chopped, cooked kale or other green
2 ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 c. toasted bread crumbs

Preheat the oven to 350. Heat 2 T. oil in a large, heavy skillet. Add the onions, garlic, and sage, season with salt, and cook, over low heat, for about 10 minutes or until the vegetables are soft. Add the kale and tomatoes. Cook for another minute or two. Add the beans, stir to combine, and transfer to a gratin dish. Add bean cooking liquid to almost cover. Top with the bread crumbs, drizzle olive oil over the top, and cook for about 45 minutes.

Soup
1 leek, white and pale green part only, rinsed, halved, and chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
4 medium baking potatoes
1/2 t. thyme
2 T. olive oil
3 c. chicken broth
3 c. water
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Saute the leek and the onion for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add the potato and thyme. Cook for another 4 minutes or so. Add the chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Blend with an immersion blender.

Salad
1/2 fennel bulb, cored, halved, and thinly sliced
3 cups baby arugula
parmesan cheese
1/4 lemon
1 T. walnut oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

Divide the arugula between 2 bowls. Top with the fennel, a pinch of salt, walnut oil, and a squeeze of lemon. Using a vegetable peeler, shave a few curls of parmesan cheese over the top of each bowl.

 

Vallarta bean puree with short ribs and bitter greens

vallarta beans with short ribs and greens3I’m finally realizing that I don’t need a light box to take photos. Just a bit more imagination. In the meantime, thank goodness for friends, who come to dinner with a fresh perspective. Here is my friend’s shot of last night’s dinner: short ribs and turnip greens over a Vallarta bean puree. OMG. So good. So, so good.

Vallarta beans are alleged to be the favorite of celebrity chef Thomas Keller, of French Laundry. (http://tkrg.org/) But in The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide, Steve Sando is less than enthusiastic, confessing, “When I first cooked it, I was underwhelmed and in fact didn’t really like the super-thick, almost peanut butter texture of the bean.” However, he did fall in love with the beans when their richness was cut by bitter greens.

I, not being a fool (at least when it comes to food), took this advice to heart. But I wasn’t quite sure what else to serve. Until inspiration struck in the form of my visiting friend’s dietary requirements, which, atypically, include lots and lots of red meat. To make more blood. Weird, right? But fascinating. I sometimes forget that all of our bodies have different needs, which can be diametrically opposed. Fun challenge to cook with another person’s body type in mind!

My other challenge in coming up with a menu was timing, as life outside of dreamland has been busier than usual. What could I make in the slow cooker that would showcase this rich, super-thick bean? I considered pot roast, but that didn’t seem right. Meatloaf, meatballs, beef stew, braciole. No, no, no, no. None of these sounded like a good foil or showcase for extra-special Vallarta bean. Then I remembered short ribs.

Several years ago, at the tail end of my dinner party hey day, short ribs were a bit of a fad. I made them just once. They were delicious but super fatty and not a lot of bang for the buck. These days I’m less flush with cash and also, because of my much healthier diet, do not easily digest fatty meats. But I kept coming back to the idea. Short ribs sounded perfect. And I couldn’t think of any other make-ahead, red meat option that sounded good. So I decided to go for it. And I’m so glad I did.

Because I’m a slow cooker junkie, I have two, one fancy new model, and another, straight from the 70s in its avocado green and curly brown font, that I picked up at a garage sale. The older version is small and round, perfect for cooking beans. But I typically use my newer model because the older one does not have a timer. Yesterday, however, I got to use both, the older one for the beans, and the newer version for the meat. You cannot imagine how happy this made me all day, to know that not just one, but two separate dishes were simmering away, at home, while I was out in the world.

Vallarta BeansVallarta beans

Before being introduced to Rancho Gordo, I had my own style of bean cookery, which is incredibly basic: beans, water, and kombu in a slow cooker, seasoned with salt at the end. I like adding aromatics as per the Rancho Gordo way. But after being warned about the richness of Vallarta beans, I decided to go with my own approach, to meet the bean on its own, without any distraction.

I put the unsoaked beans (2 cups) into the slow cooker, covered with 2″ of cold water, added a thumb-sized piece of kombu, and cooked, covered, on low for about 9 hours. When I got home the beans were perfectly tender and just covered by a rich, thick broth. I added salt and let them cool in the salted broth, to infuse beans with salt. The presalted taste didn’t wow me, but, after tasting the seasoned bean I’m definitely in Thomas Keller’s camp. Vallarta beans are delicious. Rich and creamy, similar to baby lima beans but without being overly sweet. To puree, just pluck out the kombu and use an immersion blender to combine the beans with their pot liquor. The result is a perfect companion to the heady short ribs. But I also think it would be wonderful as a bed for roasted Brussels sprouts, which I will likely try tomorrow. And, honestly? The puree on its own was so good that I literally (if carefully) licked the immersion blender. Which is embarrassing. But true.

 Short Ribs

For the short ribs, I adapted a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, which I found here (http://www.thelittlekitchen.net/2011/02/22/red-wine-braised-short-ribs-slow-cooker-recipe/). My version is pretty similar. But I used fewer ribs, because there were just going to be two of us, and I did not bother with separating meat from bones. I also used just one onion and subbed arrowroot powder for the original recipe’s flour, to make the recipe gluten free. Oh, and, as always, I used olive oil instead of vegetable oil. Just ’cause.

Review? I was happy with the end result except it was really fatty. I skimmed a lot of fat off the top before serving. But, in future, I will try to make the dish one day ahead in order to chill overnight. Refrigerated fat is much easier to remove. Okay. Now for the recipe.

3 lbs. beef short ribs
salt & pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped medium
1 carrot, peeled and chopped medium
1 celery rib, chopped medium
1 T. tomato paste
1 t. dried thyme
3 T. arrowroot powder
2 c. dry red wine
2 T. balsamic vinegar
2 c. low sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves

1. Wash and dry the short ribs. Season generously with salt and pepper, rubbing the seasoning into all sides. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown the ribs on all sides, about 1 minutes. Transfer to the slow cooker.

2. Add onions, carrot, celery, tomato paste, and thyme to the skillet. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are softened and lightly browned. Stir in the arrowroot powder and cook for another minute. Then slowly whisk (or stir) in the red wine and vinegar. Simmer for another 5 minutes or so and transfer to the slow cooker.

3. Stir the broth and bay leaves into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 9-11 hours, until the beef is tender. Mine was perfect at 10 hours.

4. Transfer short ribs to a serving platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let the braising liquid settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from the surface using a large spoon. Serve on top of the bean puree or mashed potatoes or riced cauliflower. If you want a smooth sauce, strain the liquid, discarding the solids, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Or, for a more rustic dish, top the finished plate with a spoonful of solids, as I did.

Greensturnip greens sauteed with garlic

For the greens, you want something bitter to cut the richness of the Vallarta beans, especially if you’re adding extra richness of meat. I decided to go with turnip greens for three reasons. First, they were the best looking option at the market. Second, they were the most affordable option at the market. Third, I love them. I’m a big fan of slow cooked Southern-style greens. But for this dish I went a different route, following a recipe I read the other day in the gorgeous, gorgeous cookbook, Coming Home to Sicily, by Fabrizia Lanza. (http://www.powells.com/biblio/62-9781402787836-0) I’ve adapted the original only by the type of greens (she calls for wild greens and recommends subbing Swiss chard, kale, broccoli rabe, mustard greens, dandelion, spinach, arugula, and/or escarole) and reducing the oil from 1/4 cup to 3 T.

Whatever greens  you choose, wash, trim, and boil in well-salted water for about 10 minutes. Drain, cool, and chop. Heat about 4 T. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a peeled clove of garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, being careful not to let the garlic get too brown. Then add the greens and cook for another 10 minutes. Arrange the greens on top of the bean puree, around the ribs or roasted vegetables or, if you’re a purist, just around. Enjoy!

slow cooker Sloppy Joes, traditional and an experiment with Brown Tepary beans

Sloppy Joes aren’t supposed to be tricky, I don’t think. Surely a large part of the appeal is that they’re easy? Also, of course, once you get away from the revolting Manwich-style Sloppy Joe of my childhood, they’re pretty damn good.

I actually only recently discovered that Sloppy Joes were good, when I first tried the recipe in Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann’s Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook. (http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9781558322455-5) No goopy manwich, this. Just completely addictive deliciousness. So, when I came up with the idea of a bean cookbook, I wanted to create a version using beans. And without refined sugar.

The sugar issue wasn’t a big deal. I just subbed honey in for the brown sugar called for by the original recipe, which is included at the end of this post in case you’re curious. But the beans are a completely different story. This is my third attempt and, while they’re alright, I’m still not there.

One thing that did work this time is the bean. Which is huge progress. I’ll outline the history so you’ll understand.

For my first try, I used navy beans. I thought they would work well because of the size, which was large enough to be meaty but small enough to keep the sandwich feeling. Wrong. The flavor was good by the beans themselves were overwhelmingly dense and heavy. It also took forever to cook. Literally 24 hours.

For the second try, I used lentils. Again, the flavor was fine. And the lentils were fully cooked in a normal time (10 hours on low). The problem was the texture, which was unpleasantly sharp, like eating little shards of cooked clay. Well, maybe that’s a little harsh. But not as much as you might think.

This time, with the Brown Tepary bean, I was confident that I’d finally found the perfect bean. Brown Tepary beansAs described by Steve Sando in The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide, Brown Teparies, are small, meaty beans that “are higher in protein and fiber than other beans,” drought-resistant and will grow almost anywhere. Good for the environment? Small? Meaty? Plus extra nutritional superpowers? Perfect!

Not so fast, Goldilocks. The size and texture of the Brown Tepary were indeed perfect. But the beans took far too long to cook and the final result had too liquid. Which means I’m not done yet. That said, this version is edible. But there’s no photo. I made a light box, I did! It just doesn’t work. Yet. So I’ll try again. Later.

For now, here’s the recipe, which is true to what I did today. It would be vegan  except the Worcestershire sauce is made with anchovies. If you’re feeling courageous and decide to try for yourself, I recommend using only 2 cups of water and adding the tomato sauce at the beginning. That’s my plan for next time.

2 c. Brown Tepary beans, brined overnight
2 ribs celery, diced
1 sm. red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tsp. dried mustard
1-3/4 tsp. paprika
1-3/4 tsp. chili powder
1 dried red chili, crumbled
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tb. Worcestershire sauce
3 Tb. olive oil
3 Tb. honey
1 28-oz. can tomato puree
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar

1. Add everything except the tomato puree and apple cider vinegar to the insert of your slow cooker. Add water to cover, put the top on the pot, and cook on high for 4 hours.

2. Add the tomato puree and vinegar. Stir and continue cooking for another 2 hours or until the beans are tender and the liquid has reduced (this took another several hours).

Serve on buns or as a topping for baked potatoes. If, like me, you have a lot of leftovers, they freeze really well. Dinner and lunches for later! Now, if you’re curious, here’s the recipe that made me realize why people eat Sloppy Joes.

Original recipe from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook
1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 large rib celery, finely chopped1 clove garlic, ninced
One 6-oz can tomato paste
2 Tb. apple cider vinegar, or more as needed
2 Tb. brown sugar (I use honey)
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. chili powder, or to taste
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. Worscestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tobasco
Dash of cayenne pepper

Hamburger buns or other soft sandwich rolls (or baked potatoes) for serving

1. Cook the beef and vegetables in a large skillet over medium high-heat, stirring, until the meat is cooked through. Transfer to the slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and cook on low for 6 or 7 hours. (I usually cook for 8 hours. It’s fine.)

2. Taste and add more vinegar or sugar, if desired. Serve the meat mixture spooned into the buns.

slow cooker vegetarian chili, adapted from “The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker,” by Lynn Alley

Growing up, I didn’t like chili. My father made a version with ground beef and chunks of tomato, which, as a child, I abhored. (Now I like it just fine, Dad!) Then, later, when I was a young adult, my brother introduced me to his favorite chili, a more sophisticated version that included Italian sausage and chunks of beef with a smoothly textured, complexly flavored sauce. It was good. Yet I still didn’t quite get what all the chili fuss was about. Until I moved to Chicago. And learned about winter.

chiliSince moving to Chicago I’ve fallen in love with several chili recipes, most but not all vegetarian. This recipe, which Lynn Alley titled “My Favorite Chili,” is my current favorite. At first it seems a bit intimidating, because it calls for whole spices. But don’t be scared off. It’s easy enough to grind your own spices. I just let my coffee grinder do double duty with a thorough wash before and after. Here’s my version of Lynn Alley’s favorite chili.

2 cups dried beans (I usually make this with cranberry or pinto beans, but you could probably use any kind. This time I used Lila, from ranchogordo.com. It turned out fine but I prefer cranberry beans.)
6 cups water
6 allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 t. dried Mexican oregano
1/2 t. cumin seeds
1/4 t. aniseed
1/2 T. coriander seeds
2-5 dried chilies
1 thumb-sized piece kombu
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 – 2 T. chili powder
1/2 c. diced red bell pepper
1/2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
pepper jack cheese, cilantro, and Greek yogurt, for garnishes

1. Wash the beans and put them in the insert of your slow cooker with the water. Grind the spices and add to the beans along with the kombu and the dried chilies, either whole or, if you want some extra heat, crumbled. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until the beans are tender. (If you are going to be away all day, add the ingredients listed in step 2 and cook for 8-10 hours. It will be fine.)

2. Add the diced onion, garlic, tomatoes, cocoa powder, and chili powder. Continue cooking for another 2 hours.

3. About 1/2 hour before you’re ready to serve, add the red pepper and corn kernels .

This chili tastes best if you make it a day ahead. It also freezes well. Indeed, this makes an enormous amount of chili, so I generally freeze the majority for later use. Because I feel somehow safer knowing I have chili in the freezer. But it’s perfectly delicious the same day, especially when you come home to it after a long day at work. Speaking of which, if I know I’m going to be gone all day (which I usually am), I brine the beans overnight (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/01/05/brining-beans/), and then add all of the ingredients except the red bell pepper and corn at start. Then I cook on low for 10 hours. Brining prevents the beans from toughening, which can happen if you add tomatoes or other acids early in the cooking process.

Great Mother Stallard beans on a bed of wheatberries with roasted celeriac, turnips, and brussels sprouts

These are the Great Mother Stallard beans from Rancho Gordo. As you can see, they’re gorgeous. I mean, even a person who doesn’t like beans would have to at least appreciate their beauty. Yes? Or maybe no. Although they didn’t blow me away like their friend Rio Zape, they’re pretty good. But those non-bean lovers are weird. And I’m no crusader. Not really. Not anymore.

When I first got all obsessed with beans, I sang their praises to every unfortunate soul I met. I had a missionary complex, was convinced that the lives of everyone I met would be much better if only they started eating more beans. When I encountered resistance, I insisted that no, they just hadn’t yet tried the right beans, prepared the right way. MY way, of course. And this is before I discovered heirloom beans. Oy.

It really was obnoxious. Which, sadly, I realized only when a dear friend, someone who is witty and hilarious and also probably the most considerate person I’ve ever met, finally, exhausted, explained his deep and abiding hatred of beans. It was the texture, he said. He really tried to avoid telling me, to spare my feelings. Which meant that when he finally did explain, the obvious effort and discomfort he felt at hurting my feelings somehow enabled me to finally learn that regardless of what I believed, he was entitled to his feelings.

Of course this is an obvious truth. Yet for me it was, and remains, a difficult lesson. Indeed, it’s one I seem to be learning over and over again lately. Not so much with food, but with relationships. I think maybe I’m going to be stuck in this track for the near future. Life lesson 2,000,022. Or something like that. I lost count long ago. As far as beans go, though, I think I’ve got it. Not everyone likes them. It doesn’t matter if I cook the most beautiful, best-tasting beans the world has ever seen. They still won’t like them. And that’s okay.

It’s okay because I still know plenty of people who do like beans. Thank goodness. Because I would be a sad little bunny if I couldn’t feed the people I love. And these days I want to feed them beans. Therefore I’ve been completely geeked all week because I had a date to cook dinner at my place for a bean-loving friend. Fun!

I spent the past couple of days daydreaming about menu ideas, trying to come up with a beautiful, satisfying, well-rounded vegan meal. (Although she’s not actually a vegan, she’s trying.) Since I had the entire day, I wanted to do something more complicated, maybe with multiple courses. But today, while I cooked and cleaned and listened to music after too little sleep last night and an intense Forrest class far too early this morning, I gradually pared down the plan and decided to keep it simple. I would just layer several uncomplicated individual components together to create a complex flavor without expending a lot of effort.

So this isn’t really a recipe as much as a collection. It takes a while to make everything. However, much of that time is not hands on, which leaves you free to do other things. You could also save time by using fewer, or easier, vegetables.

The next time I make this I will likely cook frizzled kale instead of brussels sprouts and maybe sweet potato instead of butternut squash. That would save time because the kale cooks on the stove top and sweet potato will cook more quickly than butternut squash. It’s a versatile dish. But whatever you change up, leave the turnip. It was really good. For now, here’s the “recipe” for the version I made tonight. Sorry there’s no photo. Hopefully I’ll get the light box done tomorrow.

Great Mother Stallard beans
1 lb. beans, soaked 4-6 hours if desired
1 sm. onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. olive oil
1 thumb-sized piece kombu
1 – 2 t. salt

Heat the oil in a 4- to 6-quart pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onions for about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and saute for an additional minute. Add the beans and the kombu, with water to cover by about an inch. Bring the beans to a boil. After 5 minutes or so, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until tender, adding salt after about an hour, when the beans have started to soften. The beans I cooked today, which soaked for 4 hours, took about 2-1/2 hours.

Vegetables
1 med. celeriac, trimmed and cut into 3/4-1″ cubes
20 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and whole (or however many you want — they will be good leftover)
1 med. turnip, trimmed and cut into 3/4″ wedges
1 sm. butternut squash, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 3/4″ cubes
olive oil to coat
salt

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss the vegetables in olive oil, separately. Season with salt. Cook in batches, one or two types at a time (I did the celeriac and turnips together, but gave the Brussels sprouts and squash their own turns), making sure the individual pieces have plenty of space. The celeriac and turnips took about 40 minutes, turning every 15 minutes or so. Although I left the Brussels sprouts in for 30 minutes, they were probably perfect after 25. And the squash took about an hour. You want everything to brown and get a little crispy. If you crowd them together everything will just steam. Which isn’t as good. Once everything is finished, transfer to a platter or baking sheet and keep in the oven at a low temperature until you’re ready to serve.

Wheatberries
1-1/2 c. wheatberries, rinsed and soaked for 1 hour
pinch of salt
3 T. sherry vinegar
1 T. walnut oil

Drain and rinse. Put the wheatberries in a medium saucepan, add a pinch of salt, and cover with about an inch of water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until tender, about an 1-1/2 hours. Keep an eye on the water level and add more as necessary to make sure the top doesn’t dry out. At the end of the cooking time, switch off the heat, cover, and let sit for about 20 or 30 minutes. Sprinkle the vinegar and oil over the wheatberries and stir gently to combine.

When you’re ready to serve, scoop some wheatberries onto a plate. Spread them out, top with a ladle of beans, and then arrange veggies across the top. This makes a lot of food, probably enough for 8. If, like me, you’re feeding only 1 or 2, you will have leftovers. I’m thinking that for lunch tomorrow I will toss a cup of beans with pasta and veggies. The beans and wheatberries will probably also make a nice cold salad. As for the squash, I may use that to revisit the kale salad I made a few days ago. It’s addictive.