Saturday, October 4, 2008

FARM-FRESH SHELLING BEANS: Good Lookin' and Good for Cookin'

Walking through the farmers' market the other day, I kept an eye out for my muse. It was my first time back to one of my favorite grocery spots after a bunch of weeks away - busy weeks, with lots of meals eaten out. I was feeling like I had lost my cooking mojo, and I was antsy to get back into my kitchen. But it would take that certain something to really spark the motivation. And so the search began.

It wasn't long before a surge of inspiration hit, my senses saturated by all of the different colors, textures, sizes, and varieties. It's such an undeniably beautiful season to enjoy produce, an in between time of hazy, late summer and crisp, early fall. Deep-red tomatoes, hearty acorn squash, multi-colored bell peppers, earthy sweet potatoes, and juicy, fresh-smelling corn were just a sampling of the foods that were proudly displayed throughout the stands.

Narrowing my focus, I found my gem of the day's trip - amazingly gorgeous spotted beans encased in red and white striped shells. "What are these?" I asked the guy working the counter. "Tongue of Fire beans" he replied. Hmm, never heard of them, but I just knew these were for me, and that was that. I couldn't stop running my hands through the bin. Finally, after being pushed a few times by some frustrated customers in the crowded booth, I filled up a bag, paid the fella, and began a little daydream of how to cook my new treat.

Once I got home my inspiration momentarily left me, as I simply tossed the bag in the fridge and went off to tend to other matters. But it was the next day, as I was thinking about making dinner and surveying the house for ingredients, that I remembered the treasure I had stored. I quickly grabbed the speckled bag out of the fridge and, without knowing what else I would prepare for dinner, I let the rosy beauties guide me.

For someone who has been feeling super crunched for time these days, I could think of no better use of energy than shelling that bag of beans. It was so peaceful. And it really didn't take more than ten or fifteen minutes. Not a bad way to decompress, listen to a little radio, and think through what I would make for dinner.

After shelling the full bag's worth, I wound up with a little over a cup of beans. I put them in a saucepan, covered them generously with water, and brought them to a boil. After that, I let them simmer with a little shake of salt for about an hour, making sure that there was plenty of water, so I wouldn't have to worry about replenishing the saucepan. As the beans did their thing, I prepped the rest of dinner and did some other stuff around the house.

Cooked, the Tongue of Fire beans transformed into a gentle, light purple-y, pebble kind of color. They had a whole different character than any of the beans that I had ever cooked from a can. I drained them, gave them a quick rinse, added a little more salt, and then served them with the stew that I had made while they were cooking.

As I ate dinner that night, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I remembered how much fun it was to gather my ingredients at the market, and I delighted in how enjoyable it was to engage in the task of peeling the beans away from their pods. Most of all, the whole experience had reminded me of how much I love to cook. And for that reason alone, those beans served as a true gift.

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