Affordable, nutritious and highly versatile, beans are must-have ingredient in everyone's pantry. I do not have a pressure cooker at home, and for many years I was daunted by the aspect of long preparation time for bean dishes...until I tried a recipe of beans in reduced red wine from Melissa Clark's video on the New York Times. She debunked a couple of myths about cooking beans and got me hooked on the simple and fuss free way in preparing bean dishes. Since then, I have tried cooking beans with seasonal vegetables: chickpeas and squash during autumn, black eye peas with kale during winter, white beans with tomatoes and the variations go on.
With a little planning, preparing bean dishes can be a breeze. I always plan a night ahead. Soak beans before heading to bed or leaving for work in the morning. By the time you reach home, the beans are ready to roll into your pot. Crock, steel or pressure pots? It doesnt really matter...the key is temperature. Less soaking would imply longer cooking time and that also means a medium flame to ensure beans are thoroughly cooked in the stock. Oops did I just mention stock? Well actually the best part of cooking beans is that the chief ingredient is so rich in flavour, you do not really need any stock to prepare a heartwarming plate of beans. A sure-proof trick is to sautè some typical 'stock' ingredients such as diced onion(s), celery stalks or whatever vegetables you find in your refrigerator before adding the beans and water to cook. Kale and rosemary, though not essential, are flavour boosters for bean soups, but a spicy bean casserole is less fussy. If you are hesitant over adding bacon or chorizos (albeit tempting and 'salivacious') to your bean dish, do go ahead and skip them, adding cured meat adds a velvety texture to your soup, however vegans and vegetarians can attest that meat in beans is rather overated.
Now here is the fun part...what goes well with beans? Actually beans are highly versatile ingredients which explains its omni-presence (if I may say that?) in many typical dishes all over the world. To get a head start in preparing bean dishes, a great way is to try out dishes from various cuisines where beans are used. Italians love their pasta fagioli, curried chickpeas is a common side dish in Indian restaurants, the Mexicans serve their pipping hot black beans with rice and the list goes on. My favourite bean dishes are mainly soup-based (but not soupy!) and most of these combos are perfect 1 pot meals or may be served with pasta bits, potatoes, rice, couscous, or simply a nice thick slice of wholegrain/rye bread. Enjoy!