Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Beans

When one thinks of Texas (I like to think everyone does), many things come to mind.  It is both a state and a state of mind, and it is bigger than the sum of its parts.  It is said that everything is bigger in Texas, but as any Texan knows, it is the little things that make it big. 

Barbeque is big in Texas, and so are Tex-Mex, chicken-fried steak, catfish, and chili.  But it’s the small things that make these big.  The smoke, the seasonings, the simplicity, the pride (well, maybe that’s a big thing), but the little things add up to something bigger than the sum of its parts, just like the state.  I was thinking about one little thing a few days ago that is so small most Texans take it for granted, but without it history may have been a little different.  It’s the bean.

I’ve heard it said, “all Texans are full of beans.”  And while this is usually not said in a positive manner, I think there may be something to it.  Texas is home to a lot of bean eaters, and there are many ways to cook those beans so the Texans can be full of them.

Beans have long been a staple in mankind’s diet, and all too often beans were the only item in the diet.  Immigrant pioneers lived on beans.  They were easy to transport and prepare.  The cowboys lived on beans.  Farmers lived on beans.  Everyone grew a few beans in their gardens.  Beans were everywhere.  Just add water and heat and dinner was on the way.  Of course, a little salt, chiles, pork, onions, and other things could be added to the pot, but at the bottom of it all, it was a pot of beans.

I believe beans were responsible at times for the direction of history.  Their ease of transport allowed adventurers to travel far and wide.  How much more difficult would the cattle drives have been if beans were not along to fuel the men on horseback?  And what would “Blazing Saddles” have been without beans around the campfire?

Beans can stand alone, or they can be the foundation of something bigger.  They are also at home as an ingredient to another dish, or just sitting on the side of the plate.  Main meal, ingredient, side dish, or garnish, beans are at the foundation of every Texan’s life.  I’m not getting back into the controversy about beans in chili, except to say they are welcome in this Texan’s chili as an ingredient.

When I have a hankerin’ for beans as a main dish or side dish, this is the first recipe I think about.

Texas Beans
Serves 6 to 8.

    1 pound dried pinto beans                                      
    6 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded                             
    3 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
    2 Anaheim chiles, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
    6 cloves garlic, minced                                        
    1 large yellow onion, diced                                                 
    1 (14 1/2-ounce) can tomatoes with juice                       
    1 tablespoon brown sugar                                         
    1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar                                 
    1 teaspoon paprika                                              
    1 teaspoon cumin                                               
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano                                     
    1 cup water                                                    
    5 cups beef broth
    1 cup beer (Shiner Bock is perfect)
    3 cups chopped cooked beef brisket
    Water as needed                     
    Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste          

Soak the beans covered in water—either overnight or the quick soak method in which you place the beans in a pot, cover with water, bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat and let sit for one hour.

Drain and rinse the soaked beans.
 
In a cast-iron skillet heated up to medium high, cook the anchos and guajillos on each side for a couple of minutes (or until they start to bubble and pop), turn off the heat and fill the skillet with hot water. Let them sit until soft and rehydrated, which should happen after half an hour or so.

In the pot in which you’ll be cooking your beans, heat up a teaspoon of canola oil and cook the onions and chopped Anaheim chilies for ten minutes on medium. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Throw the cooked onions, Anaheim chiles, and garlic in a blender and add the tomatoes, brown sugar, apple cider vinegar, paprika, cumin, oregano, water and rehydrated ancho and guajillo chiles. Puree until smooth adding more water as needed.

Add the pinto beans, beef broth, and beer to the pot and stir in the chile puree. On high, bring the pot to a boil and then cover; turn the heat down to low and simmer for two and a half hours, gently stirring occasionally and checking the level of liquids. (Do not let the beans dry out or get too thick.)  Stir in the cooked beef brisket. At this point, I check my beans for tenderness as depending on the freshness of the beans I find that the cooking time can be as short as two and a half hours and as long as four hours. When you're satisfied that the beans are done, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve these with chopped onions, jalapenos, shredded cheese (your choice), warm tortillas, red salsa, or just about anything else you want on top.  (I like a couple of big cheese enchiladas with them.)

I gotta go check on my beans.

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