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Beans and Beans

August 31, 2011

Little Miss Fussy has a pet name. It’s bean. We love beans over at the fussy house. String beans, black beans, chickpeas, baked beans, and lentils to name a few. I’ll spend hours shelling mounds of fresh fava beans to get a cup of them in the end.

And we eat them in all kinds of ways. Black fermented soybeans that add their depth and funk to Chinese stirfry. Garbanzo beans tossed in oil and roasted for a crunchy snack. White beans get pureed with garlic and oil for a silky spread.

When thinking of bean recipes we look to cultures from around the world for influences. From the U.S. South we make both red beans and rice and black-eyed peas. There’s also an Italian dish of Tuscan white bean and beef stew I love to simmer for hours in winter. But my favorite bean dishes come from South Asia. And what makes things even more fun is that they have so many different kinds of beans to play with.

Today, I’ll tell you more about one of those dishes, and what it has in common with coffee. You know, besides that being a bean too.

Somehow in the dark recesses of my brain, I’ve decided that coffee takes about 24 hours to make. At least that’s how long it takes in my cold brewing system, which has thus far made one amazing batch of iced coffee.

Given that soon I’m going to want to drink my coffee hot, I wanted to make one last go for the season.

A great guy named Jason at Uncommon Grounds helped me navigate towards the Kenya AA on my first trial. And on this latest visit we agreed that their Sumatra would be a worthy follow up. Although this time I wisely had him grind the coffee in the store.

While I really wanted to grind the beans at home in my spiff burr grinder, doing a pound at a time proved a bit taxing for my poor little machine. It’s fine. But it was torturous grinding a pound of beans in four smaller batches.

Foolishly, I figured as long as I was soaking coffee beans in water overnight, I might as well take on a second bean soaking project: dal makhani.

The dal makhani project was conceived some time ago at Parivar. I’m sure she doesn’t mean it as an insult, but Mrs. Fussy contends that the best dish I make is my chana masala. It’s a surprising compliment because all you have to do is soften beans, fry onions, dump in the box of spices, open a can of tomatoes, and put everything back into one pot.

It’s barely cooking. You know, for something that takes twenty-four hours (or so).

But since this was such a easy, successful and cheap dish to make at home, I thought perhaps there could be others lurking on the shelf at the local Indian market. And that’s where I found the MDH spice blend for dal makhani. The best part was that I got to cook with an entirely new kind of bean, urad.

Like the coffee it just takes patience and a little bit of advance planning. The beans start out dried, and should be picked over, rinsed and soaked overnight. But also like the coffee it’s pretty darned easy and fool proof once you get it going.

Below is my simplified version of the instructions on the back of the box. The box would have you measuring out spices and beans in grams, which is fine if you have a digital scale. It would also leave you with a some leftover spices and urad, which would most likely sit in your pantry until you threw them away. So I adjusted the proportions on the box of spices to account for common sizes of things. After all, this isn’t baking, and it need not be so precise.

1)    Pick over two pounds of urad dal and half of a pound bag of red kidney beans.
2)    Rinse, drain and dump into a very large pot.
3)    Cover with water by 3+ inches, put a lid on the pot, and wait 12-24 hours.
4)    Drain beans, rinse beans, and put back into pot.
5)    Cover beans with warm water and bring to a boil until large beans are soft.
6)    As that’s happening, chop two medium onions.
7)    Open a 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes and drain (reserving liquid).
8)    In a separate skillet, fry onions in a neutral oil until they get a little color.
9)    Dump the spices in the onions.
10)  Dump the tomatoes in the spices.
11)  When beans are tender, dump the red spicy mush into the beans.
12)  Simmer for 10 minutes and stir in two sticks of butter.
13)  Garnish with cream and serve with rice or naan.

Really, unless you are feeding a Punjabi army that last part is a lie. This makes a lot of dal. So I transfer mine into ceramic bowls, and after an hour move them to the refrigerator surrounded by ice packs. The next day, I’ll divide it up into smaller portions and freeze it so I’ll have quick and easy meals in the future.

If you would like to take this on, be forewarned that it’s not for the faint at heart when it comes to heat. And as it stands, I thinned out the spice blend by adding more beans than actually called for in the recipe.

It’s a good thing I’ve got some iced coffee concentrate already made, because I completed both of these things last night just around 11 o’clock. The things we do for love.

One Comment leave one →
  1. August 31, 2011 10:50 am

    Funny you mentioned Uncommon Grounds. I just started a post last night about espresso and the superiority of UCG’s espresso blend. (I still do not have a burr grinder, though)

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