chocolate cupcakes with black beans (and no gluten)

I kind’ve can’t believe this recipe worked. But it did. black bean cupcakesThese pretty little things actually taste as good as they look: like rich, chocolatey, totally sinful cupcakes. Except without icing. Because while I seem to have no problem convincing myself that it’s okay to cook cupcakes just for myself, destination-free icing feels like it would be crossing the line into something deserving of diagnosis. Or at least several therapy sessions entirely devoted to my eating disorder.

As is, I’m feeling pretty good about my recent food intake. Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written. But I’ve been cooking–and eating–plenty, including beans. I just haven’t felt inspired to write about anything. Until now.

This recipe is adapted slightly from Nancy Cain’s gluten-free cookbook, Against the Grain.

1/3 cup coconut oil
2 cups cooked black beans, drained
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 large eggs
1 cup coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Line 12 cups of a standard muffin tin with paper lines or grease with coconut oil. (I did the former this time then found myself a little angry about all the delicious cake that the paper liner stole. Next time I’ll grease.)

black bean cupcake batter2. Combine the beans and coconut oil in the bowl of a food processor. Blend until smooth. Add the cocoa powder, scrape the sides, and blend again. The batter will be very stiff.

3. Add the eggs and sugar, and blend until the sugar has dissolved, scraping the sides as necessary. Then add the baking soda and continue blending until it’s mixed in.

4. Divide the batter equally between the muffin cups. Bake for 30 minutes. Cool on a rack. black bean cupcake2Devour with ice cream, if desired. Lately I’ve been into a plain vanilla version of this one. Which is from a paleo website. Obviously I’m not into the whole paleo thing. They prohibit beans. I love beans. We are incompatible. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see the good.

Speaking of beans, note that Cain’s original cupcake recipe calls for a can of black beans. You can definitely do that. But I prefer to use beans that I’ve cooked myself from dried. First, this ensures maximum nutritional value. Second, it’s more economical and, to my mind, has a smaller environmental impact.

For this recipe I cooked a pound of dried beans. Although I usually add kombu, I decided against it for this recipe. So I just rinsed the beans, soaked them overnight, then rinsed, transferred to a pot, and added cold water to cover by about an inch. I then brought the beans to a boil, reduced the heat, and cooked until tender. It took a couple of hours. At the end I added about a teaspoon of salt and let them cool on the stove. In addition to what I needed for this recipe, it made enough to eat for breakfast with eggs and tortillas with about a cup extra, which I put in the freezer for later.

 

 

 

Chickpea soup w/ garlic and bitter greens

Gosh. It’s been a long time since my last post. I would apologize. Except, as I started to do so, I realized that this might be my new norm. I enjoy blogging. But it’s no longer a priority. And I’m not sure I still want to write a cookbook about beans.

Not that I don’t still love beans. I do. I’ve just begun to recognize my limitations, especially when it comes to nutrition. There’s so much conflicting information that I don’t have time to sort through. Especially when it comes to beans.

Historically, at least in my world, it was well settled that beans are good for you, that they’re full of protein and fiber and all kinds of good things. But of course it can’t be that simple.

Before I dive into the great bean controversy, I want to give you the recipe, which I adapted from the Chickpea and Kale Soup in Franny’s: Simple Seasonal Italian Cookbook. Speaking of which, within a day of checking this book out from the library, which is what I do with cookbooks, I’d ordered a copy. Because it’s gorgeous and well written and wonderful enough to own. Plus the recipes are terrific. Here’s another review if you’re considering. Also, for what it’s worth, I made the original version of their soup a few weeks ago. And it’s delicious. But I changed things up to maximize the calcium content. See more on that below. Now, the recipe.

Chickpea soup w/ garlic and bitter greens

2 cups dried chickpeas
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 3 or 4 chunks
1 stalk of celery, cut into 3 or 4 chunks
1 small onion, unpeeled and halved
11 garlic cloves, peeled
5 strips of lemon peel, no white pith
1 rosemary sprig
1″ piece of kombu
large square of cheesecloth
2 tsp. coarse sea salt
3-1/2 quarts water
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tb olive or grapeseed oil
1/2 tsp chili flakes
2 bunches of bitter greens (I used turnip and dandelion–the original recipe calls for Lacinato kale)
freshly ground black pepper

1. Soak the chickpeas for several hours in warm water. There’s more information on that below as well as here. I started mine in the morning then cooked the soup overnight.

2. Rinse the beans and transfer them to the slow cooker insert, if using, or a dutch oven. Combine the carrot, celery, onion, 3 cloves of garlic, lemon peel, rosemary, and kombu in the cheesecloth. Tie up the corners to make a little packet like this one. cheesecloth bundleAdd the bundle to the beans and submerge into the water with a wooden spoon. Add the olive oil. If using the slow cooker, cook on low for 10 hours. If using a dutch oven, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the chickpeas are tender. The timing will depend upon the age of your chickpeas, but check after 45 minutes. Add the salt when the chickpeas are tender and remove from the heat.

bitter greens3. Wash and trim the greens, then steam for about three minutes. Chop the garlic. Heat a tablespoon of grapeseed oil (unless you aren’t concerned about heating olive oil) and saute the garlic and chili flakes for a minute or so, just until fragrant.

4. Transfer the greens and garlic mixture to the bowl of a food processer. Add two cups of cooked chickpeas and one cup of cooking liquid. Process until smooth, then return the puree to thechickpea soup with garlic and bitter greens soup. Stir, taste, and season to taste. Ladle the soup into bowls. If desired, finish with a squeeze of lemon and some Parmesan cheese. I skipped the Parmesan but enjoyed with a slice of cheese toast. Delicious!

Now. Nutrition.

I first learned about the great bean controversy from my friend Jessica, who commented on this post in which I considered whether to soak or not to soak dried beans. Basically, she explained that soaking is necessary to make the nutrients more available. Which is correct. But, because I am extremely stubborn, I couldn’t just take Jess’s word for it.

For most of the past couple of years I’ve accepted that there is a controversy and that I don’t know what’s what. However, I also figured that as long as I continued to feel well, my digestive system was able to handle any potential problems with the beans. But then I was diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Yup. That’s right. It’s a shocker, right? Because while I’m not exactly young, I’m hardly old enough to have osteoporosis. Except that I do.

The upside is that because I’m relatively young and basically healthy, the condition is expected to be totally reversible. I just have to change my eating habits and increase resistance exercise.

Regarding the latter, that’s been pretty easy: I signed up for a weight-lifting class at the hospital. The class is at the hospital instead of the gym because right now my spine is very fragile, so I have to be super careful. As an aside, this has also affected my yoga practice, which I’ve had to modify pretty significantly. Honestly, so far, that’s been the worst part of this whole thing. I’m not supposed to do forward folds, side bends, or twists. Apparently my spine is like a stack of thin fragile plates that could be very easily chipped. Ugh. It kinda sucks. But I’m trying to take it as a spiritual lesson. Which is sort’ve working. I recognize that the experience is good for surrendering ego. Yet it’s still really bad for the expansion of my physical practice. Sigh.

Regarding the former, it’s been a little more complicated. In fact, I’ve had to make a complete overhaul. Because unless you eat 4 cups of yogurt each day, it’s really hard to consume 1500 mg of calcium each day from food. Which is what I’m supposed to be doing. So. Starting with this information from my awesome MD, I began researching calcium-rich foods. And, among other things I’m supposed to avoid (like oxalates and sugar and salt) I found out that Jessica is right–in order for your body to access the calcium in beans, you gotta get rid of the phytic acid by soaking the beans. I’m not sure when my next bone density test will be, so don’t know how long it will be until I find out if my changed eating habits are working. But I’m hoping for the best.

Vegetable stock from ends and trimmings

Wow. It’s been a long time since I’ve been here. So long that I’m not sure what to say. Except — hello! And I’m sorry for the lengthy silence. I think all of my creative energy has been absorbed into researching and writing an opening brief for the crazy case I’ve been working on since July. Which still isn’t quite finished. But almost.

So. Here I am. Without anything nearly as elaborate as my last post. But perhaps something much more useful: Vegetable stock made almost entirely from the scraps leftover from making other food. Which is something I’ve thought about a million times. But I never seriously considered it until I read Peter Servold’s Paleo By Season. Which is not to say that I’ve suddenly signed onto the paleo diet. I have not. The paleo diet is, in fact, almost antithetical to my preferred way of eating because it prohibits beans and grains, both of which I very much enjoy. But even though I don’t subscribe to the plan, I like to read paleo cookbooks because everything is gluten-free. I always get great ideas.

Like this veggie stock, which, as Servold  notes, is a perfect way to make use of scraps instead of throwing them away. He gave me a blueprint and confidence that I can make something delicious out of scraps. So I finally decided to give it a try.  Because winter is coming. My garden is closed. I won’t be able to use the compost pile for a while. Plus, like I said, I’ve always wanted to try making stock out of ends and trimmings.

Servold’s version (which he includes not as a standalone entry but in a side-bar with a recipe for Marinara sauce), consists of peelings from 5 carrots, some yellow onion, parsley, and water. The version I made today used almost all of the leftoveer bits from the vegetables I used in my most recent variation of lentil stew with cabbage and root vegetables, which I put together one morning last week before work. In addition to 3 carrots and 2 parsnips, I added a couple of turnips and used a shallot instead of garlic. (Although this post isn’t supposed to be about the lentil stew, I feel compelled to note that my latest batch turned out really well, perhaps the best ever, with the turnips adding a slightly bitter note to cut the sweetness of the carrots and parsnips.)

Because I was thinking about making vegetable stock when I made the stew,  I put everything except the cabbage , which I didn’t think would be good for a stock, into a container in the fridge, thinking I would make stock later. Then of course I forgot. Because all week I’ve been completely absorbed in my work. Which has been good. I forgot how much I like that feeling of complete engagement with a big piece of writing. At times it is overwhelming. But then you get to the end. And there is this wonderful sense of emptiness combined with satisfaction. Ahhhhh. Mental space and a feeling of accomplishment. One day, if I ever manage to make meditation a regular part of my life, perhaps that sense of spaciousness will be commonplace. And perhaps I won’t need an external sense of accomplishment. For now, though, both are something to celebrate.

Especially now. It is Sunday and I have no big case to think about, no oral argument to prepare for, really nothing much going on . A day off.scrap stock Which of course I knew would include cooking. But what? After coffee, I looked in the fridge. Noticed the container of scraps from the lentil stew. Remembered my plan to make stock. Checked to make sure everything was still fresh, then threw it into a pot with half a small onion, a sprig of parsley, and 8 cups of fresh water. I brought it just to boil, then covered part way and simmered for about an veggie stockhour. Then I strained and let it cool. The end result is exactly one quart of fairly light, fragrant, not overly sweet veggie stock. Which is not only delicious but also environmentally responsible and practically free. If you decide to try it, I’d encourage you to use whatever you have with an eye to some balance between sweet and savory and probably steering clear of cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts. The ratio I used was about 4 cups of vegetables (3 cups ends and trimmings plus parsley and half an onion) to 8 cups of water. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out and what you do with it! I think I’m going to make some soup. First, though, I’m going to take a walk. Say hi to some trees. Breathe some air. Enjoy mental space. Have a great day!

Vegetable “ceviche” salad with fresh cranberry beans

ceviche saladI made this last night, both as dinner for a dear friend who is visiting for the weekend and as a test for the dinner party I’m hosting next weekend. Which I’m both excited and terribly nervous about. Because, as I realized yesterday, this will be my first solo dinner party since I was in my twenties. Which means there’s no one to help clean or entertain people while I’m cooking. For all his flaws, my ex-husband was a perfect dinner party co-host. And while I seemed to have no problem hosting large, elaborate dinner parties on my own before I hooked up with him, I’ve changed since then. I’m now keenly aware of stress and anxiety, working to feel my way through whatever comes up instead of hiding in drugs and alcohol, distracting myself from what’s actually happening in my body. Which is a lot. But I also have yoga now. I try to meditate. I have tools to deal with anxiety. So even though part of me is scared about this first dinner party on my own as this person I’ve become, I know everything is going to be okay. Maybe not perfect, but fun. And when I woke up this morning I felt a million times better knowing that after weeks of uncertainty about what I want to make I’ve started to finalize the menu. Which will most definitely include this salad. Because it’s SO GOOD!!! Also beautiful and summery and easy and can be made in the morning for eating at night. Plus it features one of my favorite parts of summer: fresh cranberry beans.

Admittedly, the original recipe (from Food & Wine) doesn’t call for cranberry beans. Instead it’s more of a riff on succotash, with fresh lima beans. But the cranberry beans were delicious. So, if you find yourself drawn to huge piles of these beauties at your local market, I definitely fresh cranberry beansrecommend this salad is a great way to use them up. (In case you wind up with more beans than the few needed for this salad, here are some other ideas for fresh cranberry beans.) That said, I think any shelling bean will work equally well. And the same is true for other ingredients. For example, I used plums instead of nectarines, because the plums were ripe and the nectarines weren’t. And instead of a jalapeno pepper, I used a pepper from my garden. Because I had a pepper in my garden. Finally, in my riskiest departure, I used Romanesco cauliflower instead of avocado. That one was because when I was at the Farmer’s Market on Thursday, the tiny head of green cauliflower was so gorgeous that I had to get it. Then, because it was so pretty, I had to add it to the salad. Which, happily, turned out to be a very good idea.

Here’s the recipe, which reputedly serves eight. I would say that depends on what else you’re serving. If this is a true side or starter, it’s probably enough for ten. But you could also add some greens (as my visiting friend suggested, it would be good over chopped kale) and make it the main course, in which case I think four people would be very happy with their servings. Now. Recipe. For real.

1 c. fresh cranberry beans (from about 1-1/2 pounds in their pods)
1 t finely grated lime zest
1/3 c. fresh lime juice
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 hot pepper, jalapeno or other
Sea salt
1-1/2 c. fresh corn kernels (from two ears)
1 plums or nectarines or other stone fruit, not too ripe, halved and thinly sliced into wedges
1 small head of Romanesco cauliflower, cut into bite-sized florets
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved (a mix of types and colors is nice)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped cilantro

Combine the lime zest, lime juice, olive oil, shallot, and pepper in a large bowl. Whisk to combine then season with salt. Bring two or three cups of water to a boil. Add about a teaspoon of salt and the beans. Cook for 17 minutes, then add the cauliflower. Cook for another three minutes then drain and rinse with cold water. Add to the dressing. Fold in all of the remaining ingredients except the cilantro. Cover and chill for at least two and up to eight hours. Just before serving, toss in the cilantro. Taste and add more salt if necessary. I used quite a bit.

Fresh Summer Cassoulet w/ Gluten-Free Bread

More than a year ago I wrote this post, in which I talked about a vegan cassoulet I had at 29 Palms, in Joshua Tree. The chef gave me directions, which I documented with every intention of giving it a shot. But then life intervened. First I had to move. Then the summer was insanely hot, so that the very last thing I wanted to do last summer was spend time in the kitchen. Finally, I was me eating cassouletalways rehearsing.

All of that seems like it happened far more than a year ago. Wow. So much has changed. For example, I cut off my hair. See, there I am, last night, just about to dip a piece of gluten-free bread into the cassoulet. With really short hair. And not yet knowing whether the food had turned out as planned or was going to bomb. Nervous. Hopeful. Happy to be with people I love. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Cassoulet. Bread.

Until a couple of weeks ago my plan of recreating that delicious vegan cassoulet had fallen completely out of my mind. But I remembered it I was trying to figure out what to make for a dinner party I was co-hosting with friends who live in Evanston. Since Evanston is a bit of a hike from my place, I wanted to make something with ingredients that would be easy to carry. Also, affordability is always a consideration these days. Plus I have this new gluten-free thing. And, we were having the dinner party in honor of a friend who was visiting from California and is someone who really appreciates delicious food. (If you like to cook as much as I do, that’s an important quality in friends.) So I was super excited when I remembered the cassoulet. The only trick was coming up with a decent gluten-free bread. Which has been much more difficult than anticipated.

Indeed, during my relative silence of the past few months, I’ve actually been cooking a lot. But in addition to my generalized lack of creative energy (apparently I’m one of those people whose creativity is fueled by angst. Now that I’m no longer so unhappy, I’m not feeling the need to create. It is sad. But I like being happy.), I also haven’t been writing about it because there have been a lot of failed attempts. Specifically, with gluten-free bread.

I know, I know. Gluten-free bread does not involve beans. But, as I’ve mentioned before, bread is an essential component of a bean-based diet. Not only is it good for dipping into delicious sauces, bread adds an important textural variation. Here, it is necessary for both reasons. So, breath held and fingers crossed, I tried out yet another recipe promising delicious gluten-free bread so good that even people who can eat gluten will love it. And lo and behold, this recipe delivered! gluten free breadMaybe not the most beautiful loaf ever, but definitely, recognizably, bread. (The weird shapes happened because my dough was a lot more runny than it was supposed to be, so as it settled into the parchment paper, it took on the crinkles in the paper instead of being strong enough to straighten them out.)

This bread is a bit more dense and moist than regular bread, but totally and completely delicious. Indeed, last night a friend who habitually reached for the baguette wound up deciding that she preferred the gluten-free bread. Finally!

This version, which I think is the fourth recipe I’ve tried, was adapted from Gluten-free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes, by Daniel and Shauna Ahern. I love this cookbook. I love them. And I love this bread. Here’s my version. The cassoulet recipe follows.

GLUTEN-FREE BREAD

  • 1-1/4 c. tapioca starch (The original recipe calls for potato starch. I subbed because I didn’t have any on hand and it was pouring out. Given what happened with my version, you should probably use potato starch.)
  • 1-1/4 c. almond flour
  • 2/3 c. oat flour (certified gluten-free)
  • 1/2 c. millet flour
  • 1 T. active dry yeast
  • 3 t. psyllium husks
  • 1-1/2 t. coarse sea salt
  • 1-1/3 c. warm water
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/6 c. olive oil
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1 T. olive oil for the bowl

Combine the flours in the bowl of a standing mixer, if you have one. If not, just combine them in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Then add the yeast, psyllium husks, and salt. Whisk again. Pour the warm water, eggs, oil, and honey over the dry ingredients and mix with the paddle attachment (or a spoon) until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. At this point, the original recipe tells you that it will be soft and will slump off the paddle/spoon. But my mixture was a very runny, slightly grainy batter. Whatever you wind up with, oil a large bowl and scrape (or pour) in your dough/batter. Cover with a clean cloth and let it rise until doubled and bubbly. For me, that took about three hours. The original recipe says two.

sliced breadAt the end of your rising time, preheat the oven to 500 and put a covered cast-iron Dutch oven in to come to heat. (The original recipe suggests either a Dutch oven or a pizza stone. My dough would never have worked for a pizza stone, as it was far too runny. But maybe you will have better luck. I hope so!) After the Dutch oven has been heating for thirty minutes, remove it from the oven and place a large piece of parchment paper on top, using an oven mitt or kitchen towel to push it into the container. Drop in the dough. If you like, top with a swig of olive oil and some sea salt. Then fold the parchment paper over, put on the lid, and return the pot to the oven. Bake for thirty minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for at least thirty minutes.

 

 

FRESH SUMMER CASSOULET (serves 4)

The original directions for this cassoulet are as follows: Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Saute garlic and shallots. Add fresh greens, whatever is in season (the chef used Swiss chard), halved cherry tomatoes, basil, oregano, marjoram, and a healthy amount of salt. Saute, stirring, for a few minutes, until everything is carmelized. Then add cooked white beans and about two cups of white wine. Cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Serve with toasted bread.

As you can see, the only ingredient with a specified amount was the wine. So what I wound up with last night was complete guess work, which I did not measure or document except in this photograph.cassoulet, uncooked Also, I used two separate skillets in order to feed 8. Therefore, what follows is my best guesstimate for what I did in a single batch. Which I may do differently next time. And which, if you try this out, I hope you make your own. This recipe lends itself to that sort of cooking. I hope you try.

  • 1-1/2 T. chopped garlic
  • 3 T. halved, thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1-1/2 c. halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 c. sliced Swiss chard
  • 4 c. cooked cannellini beans
  • 2 c. white wine
  • 1/2 c. fresh basil, oregano, and marjoram, minced
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Add the garlic and shallots and saute for a couple of minutes, stirring, until richly fragrant. Add the tomatoes and salt. Cook for another minute or two of five. Then add the chard and herbs then cook, stirring a little, until carmelized. Add the beans and wine. Continue to cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid has reduced a bit and it smells so good you have to eat right now. Serve with toasted bread. Enjoy!

 

Norwegian lentil “meatballs”

lentil meatballs in gravyThis recipe was originally inspired by Sylvia Fountaine’s post at feasting at home. (http://bit.ly/1lsdpLe) Except the Norwegian spin, which came from one of my two book clubs, the one in which we try to read books from, or at least about, other countries. Whoever is hosting tries to serve food from, or at least influenced by, that place. Our most recent book was “Norwegian by Night,” by Derek Miller. Which was very good. And set in Norway. But with a heavy emphasis on being a Jew from New York forced to live in Norway. So I think it’s okay that I took such enormous liberties with what is apparently a most classic Norwegian dish. Especially since the end result, which was heavily influenced by Signe Johansen’s recipe in Food and Wine (http://bit.ly/1hlg8ks), wound up being completely delicious, as well as entirely gluten and sugar free. Note that the meatballs themselves are vegan. But the gravy is not.  Here’s what I did.

Meatballs
1 c. black lentils (uncooked)
5 or 6 cardamon pods, lightly crushed
1/2 c. quinoa (uncooked)
1/2 med. onion, finely chopped
1 t. ground allspice
1 t. ground cardamon
1/2 t. freshly grated nutmeg
1 T pink Himalayan (or kosher or sea) salt
6 oz. firm tofu
2 T. olive oil

Gravy
1 qt. beef stock
1/3 c. red wine (something you would drink) or brandy
1-1/2 c. creme fraiche or sour cream
1 T. unsweetened cocoa powder

1. Rinse the lentils and place them in a medium pot with 3 cups of water and the cardamon pods. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. Drain well.

2. While the lentils are cooking, rinse the quinoa and place it in a small pot with 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 14 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the lid.

3. Saute the onion in 1 T. olive oil over medium heat for 5-7 minutes. Add the spices and salt, and cook for another minute or two until fragrant.

4. Pre-heat the oven to 400 and line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Combine the quinoa, half of the lentils, and the onion mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times, until it has the texture of coarse sand. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Add the tofu and remaining olive oil to the bowl of the food processor (no need to rinse) and mix until smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary. Mix the tofu mixture into the lentil/quinoa combination, then stir in the remaining lentils until everything is thoroughly combined. Either form the mixture into balls or, if it’s too wet (as mine was), use a tablespoon measure to form ball-like patties on the prepared baking sheet(s). Bake for 20-25 minutes. If you prefer a crisp exterior, flip the balls and bake for another 15-20 minutes.

5. While the balls are baking, make the gravy. Boil the stock in a large, deep skillet for approximately ten minutes, until it’s reduced by half. Then add the wine (or brandy) and boil for another two or three minutes. Whisk in the creme fraiche and cocoa powder, reduce the heat, and simmer until the balls are done. Serve on the side.

Greek lima beans

greek lima beansThis recipe is adapted from one I found in The Great American Slow Cooker Book, by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. (http://bit.ly/1ee8Aji) The original recipe is named “gigantes beans with tomatoes and dill.” Although my version is pretty close to theirs, I changed the name, because that’s what these beans are to me, a favorite side at some (although not all) Greek restaurants. Tangy, velvety smooth, and deeply satisfying, I’ve loved them since my first taste, probably 15 years ago. But they aren’t a sure thing. And I’ve had trouble finding a recipe that works.

Here’s what I wrote when I first made these beans: While this version is okay, even good, it isn’t perfect. The beans are a bit too sweet.

At the time I thought that was an accurate assessment. But last night, when I tried these beans again (I froze a few servings from the original batch), I realized that in fact they are absolutely wonderful. Sweet, yes. But in the best way, completely delicious. I had them for dinner with bread, nothing else, and at the end of the meal the bowl was literally unmarked. Because I scooped up every last drop of sauce.

That said, this version is not what I hold in my memory as the perfect Greek Lima Bean. And maybe there never will be a perfect. Because over the years I’ve tried several recipes.There was one that came close, which I made pretty regularly for years. I’ve meant to post about it. But I haven’t made it since I started blogging. I’m not sure why. Perhaps because I associate that version with a version of myself I’m glad no longer exists, the perfectionist version who made trial runs of everything before dinner parties and wouldn’t eat anything that wasn’t exactly right. That version of me had great dinner parties, it’s true. My food was always perfect. But back then, in my marriage, I was always too anxious to relax without at least two glasses of wine. And I didn’t really have much fun. I pretended, I think fairly well, but honestly I preferred for everyone to leave me alone while I worked. I was far too stressed out to enjoy a conversation, even with people I loved. Which is sad.

The good news is that lately I’ve started to think about dinner parties again. Real dinner parties. With more than two guests. Where I will have fun. For these dinner parties held by this now version of myself, I plan to be okay with cooking food that might not be perfect. Because what matters is that I’ll be relaxed. Have fun. Maybe even make food ahead of time so that I can devote full attention to guests. Which is what I’m doing now, with these beans. Sort’ve.

I say sort’ve because, while I’m starting to think about real dinner parties, it’s not happening just yet. But I am having a good friend over tomorrow. She offered to give me Reiki and I offered to give her dinner. Cooking for the people I love gives me about as much joy as anything. And I’d be fine cooking with her here. No anxiety in cooking for one or two people. Still, I’m cooking ahead of time because tomorrow another friend somehow convinced me to take a Bikram class, followed by brunch. Which is both exciting and terrifying. I dread Bikram, am convinced I’ll either vomit, faint, or both. However, I promised. So I’m doing it. And therefore I’m cooking today. Ahead of time. Being okay with imperfection.

Of course, while I’m happy to have lost the perfectionism, I hope my food is still good. Because, well, who wants to eat–or serve–bad food? Not me. So. Here’s hoping everything turns out. This is the recipe for the beans:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, chopped (or diced)
1 lb. dried gigantes (or giant lima) beans
1-3/4 cup white wine or vermouth (I used white wine because I don’t have vermouth)
1/4 cup honey
3 T tomato paste
1/2 cup water
1 bay leaf
1″ piece of kombu
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
2 t salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat a large cast iron (or other) skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then add the onion and reduce the heat to low. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft, fragrant, and golden.

2. While the onion is cooking, pick over and rinse the beans, drain, and add to the slow cooker insert. Stir in the wine, honey, tomato paste, water, bay leaf, and kombu. In case you don’t already know, kombu is a sea vegetable that “lends a delicious, meaty flavor to the beans (not at all fishy) and is mineral-rich, with additional B vitamins and trace elements, as well as a digestion-soothing gel that literally melts into the bean sauce.” (http://bit.ly/1fgkJ6Z) Cook on low for 5-7 hours.

3. Stir in the dill, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Cover and continue cooking for another 3-5 hours, until the beans are tender. Add more water if necessary to ensure the beans are fully submerged. But don’t add too much–you want a thick, rich sauce.

In case you’re interested in the rest of the menu, most of which I’m making today, we’re having these beans with a kale salad (http://bit.ly/1cKY6aE) and potato-celery root latkes (http://bit.ly/1dD8dC2). I’ll try to remember to comment to let you know how it all goes together. Bon appetit!