Monday, September 21, 2009

Three Bean Stew

So I'm putting on my Seinfeld hat: What's the deal with three bean salad? Why don't we ever see other foods with three beans: Three bean burritos? Three bean baked beans? Three bean hummus? If three beans is good for salad, we must make it good for other things too - like stew! I love bean stew. Normally you see soups and stews with only one kind of bean: canellini (minestrone), pinto (chili), red (jambalaya). Well here we have it: Three Bean Stew. The base recipe is vegetarian, but you could add grilled and sliced sausage (like kielbasa), bacon bits, or ham (practically any pork product!) if you wanted some extra meaty goodness.

  • 2/3 of a cup each of dried pinto beans, red beans, and garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
  • 8 cups of water (use filtered if your tap water tastes funny)
  • 2-4 cups leftover vegetable parts (celery and bell pepper tops, carrot sticks, onion slices, parsley stems, or other aromatic veggies, see note below), roughly chopped
  • 4-6 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup each of onion, celery, carrot, and red bell pepper, cut into a large dice
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice (from half a lemon)

Soak the beans in the water overnight. Make sure that as the beans soak up the water, there is enough to keep them fully submerged at all times. Do not let the beans soak for more than 24 hours or they will start to become mushy and flavorless.

Put the leftover veggies, bay leaves, and garlic in a cotton stuffing bag. Put the veggie bag, beans (with their soaking water), and 2 tablespoons kosher salt together in a stock pot. Bring to a boil and then simmer, covered, for 1-2 hours, or until the beans are cooked, adding more water as necessary to keep them covered. (They will not be a mushy as canned beans. They should have a pleasant toothiness when cooked correctly, but they will not be crunchy.) Remove the veggie bag and discard (the veggies, that is, not the bag - it can be washed and reused). Drain the beans in a colander, catching the cooking broth in a bowl. Reserve the beans and broth for later.

Heat the olive oil in the stock pot over medium heat. Sweat the remaining diced veggies with a heavy pinch of kosher salt for 3-5 minutes, or until the carrot starts to soften but is still a little crunchy (do not brown the veggies - turn the heat down to medium low if necessary to avoid frying or sauteeing). Using a fine mesh strainer, sift the flour over the veggies, stirring to evenly coat them. Continue to cook over medium-low heat until the flour starts to brown, another 3-5 minutes. Slowly pour in all but 1/2 cup of the broth, stirring constantly. Stir in the thyme, sage, and pepper. Add all but 1/4 cup of the beans and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, blend together the reserved beans and broth in a blender or food processor and pour the mixture back into the stew (you can skip this step and just pour all the broth and beans into the stew if a thinner consistency is desired). Season with more salt and pepper to taste, add the lemon juice, and simmer for another 3-5 minutes, until the stew reaches a desired thickness (it will thicken slightly as it cools). Remove from heat and serve over rice with hot sauce on the side.

Cooking the beans with the leftover veggie parts basically turns the bean cooking liquid into veggie broth, saving you from having to buy some and using up a bunch of vegetables you were probably going to throw away. If you don't have any leftover veggies (for example, you gave them all to your potbellied pig), you could add 1-2 cups of vegetable broth to the soaking liquid before boiling the beans, as well as using additional broth to top off the beans if too much liquid cooked into the beans or evaporated. Back to ingredients.

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