A hill of beans

A hill of beans
Ari LeVaux - 04/23/2020

Like most of you, I have been sheltering in place for what feels like forever. It feels oddly familiar, because in some ways I have been preparing to shelter in place since about Y2K. Back then, it seemed totally reasonable to expect computers to trigger societal collapse, and activities like gardening, canning and raising chickens were a reasonable response to the coming chaos. Some of us also have noticed the sweet and savory rewards of being self-sufficient, whether because of disaster or just winter. Crisis or not, you still eat the canned peaches. As the years went by, I became so distracted by the pleasures of food storage that I forgot I was also preparing for the big one.

There’s no food shortage, yet, but many people are stockpiling. Canned food is the most popular, especially beans but also vegetables. You don’t hear stories about people hoarding fresh produce, even though we all should be eating more of that if we are trying to stay healthy.

I did most of my stockpiling last fall, and this is the time of year when I normally focus on eating my stash. I have frozen bags of tomato sauce and pesto to make noodle time extra special, as well as frozen meat, cutlets of eggplant and zucchini, jars of salsa, pickled peppers and chutney, dried fruit, and many more things, packaged when it was fresh.

You don’t have to aim big if you are just starting out stocking a pantry. Stick to an amount that’s doable, and fun. Experiment. Most importantly, find some good produce and start cutting it up. Figure out how to cook it, maybe preserve it. At the very least, cook a big batch of something and freeze the leftovers.

My local store is cleaned out of canned beans, and yours probably is too, but the dry beans are usually available. This is good, as dried beans are preferable. The only advantage of canned beans is that they are ready to go. But dried beans are cheaper than canned beans and occupy less space in the bunker. And when you are truly sheltering in place, time is no longer in as short supply.

At this point in a normal spring, I would be loading up on potatoes and young greens at my local farmers market. Since the market is closed, I have been reaching out to farmer friends to schedule some socially distant parking lot deals for carrots, onions, potatoes, cabbage and other winter staples. And fresh greens like baby bok choy and spinach for my ramen noodles, and sweet radish, pea shoots and whatever random stuff they might have.

Here is a bean soup recipe from the south of Spain, where my own personal quarantine began. Cocido de Hinojos is traditionally made with fennel, which grows wild in the Andalusian hills, but this recipe uses parsley and kale, as fennel can be scarce these days. In this soup, as in life, the more greens and veggies, the better.

This recipe is written for dried beans. If using an Instant Pot, slow cooker or canned beans, adjust accordingly. Whatever you do, don’t throw out the bean water, including from a can – add that to the pot.

Andalusian-Style Potato and Bean Soup

Serves 4, with another four servings for the freezer
1 cup of dry big white beans (or 2 14-oz can of beans) 
1 large onion, one half minced
2 stalks celery, cut in half crosswise to fit in pot
2 large carrots, cut in half
1 large potato, 1⁄2-inch cubed
2 quarts stock (vegetable, beef or chicken)
1 tablespoon thyme
1⁄2 cup olive oil
2 slices bacon, whole or chopped (optional)
1 modest bunch parsley
3 cloves garlic, minced
1⁄2 cup dry sherry or rice wine
1⁄2 lemon, juiced and zested
1 bunch kale or collards, trimmed and minced 1 teaspoon salt
More salt, and pepper, to taste

Rinse the beans and soak overnight in 4 quarts of water in a large pot. The next day, cook beans for an hour or so, until soft. Add the stock, thyme, celery, carrot, potato and half of the onion, peel and all. Cook for another hour.

Hold the parsley bunch by the leaf end and slice the stems as thinly as possible. Chop the leaves and set aside for later.

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot on med/high, with bacon if using, and add the minced parsley stems. Fry about 5 minutes, add the onions, and cook another 5 or so minutes, until onions are nearly caramelized. Stir in garlic. When the delicious garlic aroma is almost developing a burnt edge, about 2 minutes, deglaze with the sherry/rice wine.

Remove the large pieces of celery, carrots and onion from the bean pot and use a slotted spoon to scoop the beany remains into the fried onion, parsley and garlic. Add the lemon juice and zest, kale and salt, and enough bean broth to cover everything by an inch. Turn heat to medium. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, and cook for another 30 minutes, adjusting the broth level to your liking with stock from the bean pot.

About 10 minutes before turning off the heat, add the chopped parsley leaves. Serve drizzled with your finest olive oil or a splash of hot sauce.

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