And lots of garlic. And slowly cooked, finely chopped carrots, onions, green olives and cured sausage — oh my! This stew was so terribly satisfying on a cold winter night. I’ve eaten it (with a poached egg) for breakfast every morning since, too. I really wish I had more for tomorrow’s, and may start one anew.
Surely, there must be grander temptations for a lone meal at home when winter’s hit its darkest point, with no holidays left in sight. Perhaps I should indulge in a steak, or at least a savory beef stew. But it’s beans I’m craving more and more often, and at all times of the day (who eats beef stew for breakfast anyway?). Fortunately, this is easy on the budget and the heart, and the word “hearty” gains more meaning when beans are cooked to such satisfaction as this.
soaked and drained pinto beans (replace with any variety!)
It’s not difficult, but it does take some time. Allow yourself two to three hours (ideally on a leisurely weekend afternoon) to achieve this. Beans — when purchased dried, which are optimal for taste and texture over canned — need some time to enrich. That’s what you need for yourself on the weekends, too, right? To soak in books (rather than three inches of water to cover), films, works in art museums, take on some crafts. Or, just steaming hot water in the bathtub, sprinkled with lavender buds.
Well, I swapped out the lavender of last weekend for some nose-tingling smoked paprika, infusing a pot of beans instead. The rest that went into the stew was a porridge of the kitchen sink: some leftover olives and dry-cured hard salami, served as hors d’oeuvres for a holiday party once; mushrooms that had shrank in its paper bag over a week; necessary aromatics and tomato paste. I do not like sweetened baked beans. I much prefer umami-tinged, slow-simmered beans on its own, or with rice.
If you’re with me on this (or if you’re just looking for a healthy, yet hearty alternative to beef stew), then here’s a good recipe for you. Leftovers, good leftovers, that is, have a tendency to lead to some of the best kitchen inventions ever. I’m not sure if you could call this stew Italian, Mexican, or Spanish (Catalan?) given its ingredients. It’s a peasant dish in the vein of any of them, though. It does have finely chopped bits of some excellent, aged dry-cured salumi from the Brooklyn Kitchen (with a whitish casing that needed to be peeled first) finely chopped up in it — I’d wanted the pieces to practically melt invisibly into the dish — which is Italian in cuisine. It has Spanish green olives from Eastern District, another Brooklyn food shop. Then it has smoked paprika, usually used in Eastern European cuisines. Also, some slightly dried pioppini mushrooms from Madura Mushroom Farms at the Greenmarket. And I’d used pinto beans, a favorite in South American foods. So who knows what regional cuisine this is? All I know is that you can omit some of these (especially the charcuterie, if you’re vegetarian) or replace them with other varieties of the same camp (e.g. different mushrooms, or beans) as much as you like. Then call it a very [fill in the name of your city, or home kitchen, if you have a name for that] dish. Or call it “that winter weekend’s savory bean dish,” to linger in your memory instead.
Winter Bean Stew With Smoked Paprika and Wild Mushrooms
(makes 6-8 servings)
2 cups dried beans (such as red kidney, pinto, Great Northern or cannellini, soaked in at least 3 inches to cover overnight)
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 medium sized carrots, finely chopped
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped dry salumi, chorizo, pancetta or bacon (optional)
4-6 green Spanish olives, pitted and chopped
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
about 1 cup fresh wild mushrooms, stems trimmed and sliced
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (or substitute water)
fresh chopped herbs such as parsley or chives for garnish (optional)
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven with olive oil over medium-high heat, and add the chopped salumi once it’s hot. Stir occasionally for 1-2 minutes, until just crisped. Add the onions and carrots, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until well-softened, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, sliced mushrooms, olives, smoked paprika and a pinch of salt and pepper and continue to cook another 1-2 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir to incorporate thoroughly over low heat another 1-2 minutes.
Add the soaked and dried beans and all the stock (or water). Bring just to a boil then reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Cover pot and let simmer for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until beans are very tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with the fresh herbs for garnish.
(for 6-8 servings)
2 cups dried pinto beans: $2.00
1 onion: $0.25
2 carrots: $0.50
4-6 garlic cloves: $0.25
1 tablespoon finely chopped salumi: $1.00
1 cup wild mushrooms: $1.50
1 quart chicken stock (homemade): $2.00
1 tablespoon tomato paste: $0.40
2 teaspoons smoked paprika, salt and pepper: 0.50
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil: $0.50
Four brownie points: Uber-healthy stuff. You can omit the meat or replace the chicken stock for veggie broth or water, and it’s still rich and tasty — and really, if you do use it, the chopped pieces of repurposed cured meat or chicken stock play background to the veg. But no matter the dietary restriction of either variety, you’re getting plenty of heart-healthy protein from just the beans themselves here. Served alone, you might want an accoutrement of sauteed greens to round out your nutrition, or serve it with some grains such as rice or bread for extra starch (although beans do carry filling starches). But as a substitute for a main-course meat, this dish is an excellent option for your health, and one that won’t probably leave you wanting taste-wise.
Six maple leaves: Dried beans are a great pantry staple for its longevity; they can be enjoyed throughout the year (unlike fresh green beans, for example). This makes it an excellent choice for being “seasonal” at any given season, and it’s a low carbon-footprint protein compared to meat in any case. For similar reasons of preservation, olives (which are cured in brine) and salumi (which is dry-cured with salt) can be found year-round, and replace the fresh flavors that you can’t readily find in the doldrums of winter. The winter carrots, onions and garlic enhance these intense flavors, and makes it perfectly seasonal, too.