We love beans. Inexpensive, nutritious and filling, legumes also take top honors for tastiness. Most every culture boasts a beloved bean dish or two. And many plant-centric cuisines offer multitudinous manifestations of leguminous medleys, from India’s diverse dals and China’s breadth of ingeniously transformed pulse products, to the frijoles (of Three Sisters agricultural and numismatic fame) of the original Americans.
While I certainly appreciate an elaborate cassoulet or feijoada, and have amused my family’s palates with various homemade incarnations of Indian treats such as dosas, idlis, badas and badis, I usually keep my bean cookery fairly simple, as in straightforward brews of Texas field peas (see “Hoppin’ Jean“), Indian dal purees (I particularly enjoy mung dal), or often just adding a can of cooked garbanzos, kidney beans, or white beans to sautés and stews. Here’s an easy seasonal bean dish to put your slow cooker to good use.
SLOW COOKER RANCHY BEANS makes a more than a half-gallon
- 2 ½ cups organic dried pinto beans, picked through for pebbles. I buy these in bulk at either Central Market or Whole Foods.
- 3 Tablespoon tasty fat. Bacon grease is perfect, of course, but any good animal fat will work, as will olive oil for a vegetarian version.
- 1 large or 2 small or 1 ½ medium (you get the idea) local and/or organic onions, chopped.
- 1 good-sized local bell pepper, whatever color’s at hand, chopped. I just bought some shiny organic red/green marbled beauties from Milagro Farm at the Austin Farmers Market. Or use an equivalent amount of other local sweet peppers.
- 1 spicy chile, such as a jalapeno or serrano, halved, seeds and ribs removed if kids will be partaking. Use more chiles and leave the innards in for the NC-17 crowd.
- 1 bay leaf—try growing your own. The plant will survive cozily in a pot if necessary. Ours has thrived organically outdoors for years.
- 2 or more cloves of garlic, minced. I prefer more but garlic tolerance is very personal. When I can’t find local (it’s mostly, if not all, gone for now), I purchase domestic organic.
- 2 teaspoons mustard powder
- 2 teapoons good quality chili powder. I mix my own. See recipe.
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger (dried)
- 1 28-ounce can organic crushed tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted. You can briefly whirl canned diced or whole tomatoes in your food processor for an interchangeable texture.
- 2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 Tablespoon cane syrup, sorghum syrup or molasses
- 2 teaspoons salt. I like Real Salt. WF sells it in bulk.
Soak the beans overnight (at least 8 hours) in cold water. Drain and rinse them. If you can’t cook them right away, they’ll keep, covered, in the fridge for up to four days. Don’t oversoak them (24 hours or more), however. The skins will toughen and the insides will fall apart.
Heat your fat in a Dutch oven or other very large (6-quart is good), wide pot. Saute the onions and peppers with the bay leaf until softened. Add the drained beans and continue to saute until your ingredients pick up some brown spots. Stir in the garlic and let the fragrance bloom. Add your dried seasonings and stir a bit. Add the rest of the ingredients and turn the heat off while you get your slow cooker ready.
Plug in a large (6-quart) slow cooker and set it to HIGH heat. Carefully pour your bean mixture into the crock and add enough water to cover the beans by about one inch. Give it stir, put a lid on it and cook it all day. If you’re passing throught the kitchen at about half-time, go ahead and stir it again, quickly replacing the lid.
These beans can take up to 9 hours to cook through, as the acidity of the tomatoes slows softening. Later in the cooking, if the beans appear threateningly dry, add a little more water (hot water, please!).
When your beans are tender and cooked, correct the salt if needed. Serve with fresh-cracked black pepper and spicy chiles. Roll ’em up in a corn tortilla or swipe at ’em with a homemade roll.