A couple times each year, once in January and then again in July, I take a very detailed inventory of my pantry in order to cull foodstuffs that have been part of the family for far too long and are in need of either being used or pitched. As I REALLY hate tossing perfectly good grub, January and July tend to be months where new and unusual foods are cooked up in these parts.
By unusual I don’t mean weird, I mean that these are foods that we don’t normally cook as part of our standard meal rotation. Of course, most of the food in the pantry are items like canned tomatoes, rices, lentils, sugars, A/P flour, and pastas which don’t merit special attention as they are things that we cook with regularly and therefore move in and out of the larder well before they’re at risk of spoiling. Other items turned up in the inventory like specialty flours, nuts, spices, and even the dried scarlet runner beans used in this dish are products that we don’t use every week and are therefore more apt to hide away in the far reaches of the room until they’re either forgotten entirely, or just end up spoiled.
The fact is that dried beans have a pretty long shelf life, but they do lose flavor and take progressively longer to cook the older they are, so I like not to have any hanging around for more than a year or so without being used. The scarlet runners I used in this recipe are from the good folks at Rancho Gordo, the heirloom bean company based in Napa, CA. I’ve bought RG beans for years and am a huge fan of their selection and quality, but I’ve usually limited my purchases to more common beans like flageolets, pintos, or borlottis that I use in soups or stews. I bought these scarlets last year along with a bag of christmas lima beans to try something new, but they turned out to be so unlike any bean I’ve ever cooked with that I set them aside for a special occasion that never presented itself.
It turns out that my January inventory also turned up a couple large bags of dried chilis that my brother-in-law, David, had brought me some time ago. Among them were some anchos that were crying out for a little bean love. This recipe is a slight adaptation of one I found in Rancho Gordo’s Heirloom Bean Cookbook and provided the perfect avenue for my using both the beans and the chilies…..Huzzah!
The beans are delicious on their own, topped with some crumbled feta or queso fresco, some fresh cilantro and a spritz of lime. They are large when cooked, almost the size of a somewhat flattened Brazil nut, so even when eaten alone a bowl of these darlings are a substantial meal. If you must, serve them alongside your favorite chicken dish, or the chop of your choice, I’ll never tell.
Cheers – Steve
- 1 pound dried scarlet runner beans
- 4 ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
- 1 onion, quartered
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 cup chicken broth or water
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- crumbled queso fresco or feta for garnish
- chopped fresh cilantro for garnish
- lime wedges for garnish
- Place the beans in a large bowl and cover with at least one inch of water; let soak over night.
- Add the beans and their soaking water to a large pot. The beans will have expanded, so make sure they are still covered by at least an inch, maybe a bit more. Turn your heat to medium high and bring to a hard boil.
- Keep the beans at a boil for about five minutes and then reduce them to a gentle simmer, then cover. I like to see how low I can go and still get the occasional simmering bubble. When the beans are almost ready, the aroma will be heady. If the bean water starts to get low, always add hot water from a tea kettle.
- Meanwhile put the chilies in a small bowl, add hot water to cover, and soak until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain the chilies and put them in a blender with the onion and garlic. Purée until smooth, adding some chicken broth or water to thin the mixture if necessary, the texture should be like a pourable pesto. You should have about 1 1/2 cups of chili purée.
- In a small, heavy skillet over medium-low heat, cook the purée, stirring occasionally, until the bitter flavor begins to mellow, about 15 minutes. Add the cumin and salt and pepper to taste and cook for 10 minutes to blend flavors.
- When the beans are beginning to soften, after about one hour, add the chili purée and season the whole mix with salt and pepper. Continue cooking until the beans reach the desired texture, depending on their age, another 15-45 minutes.
- Serve as a vegetarian main dish or as a super healthy side topped with queso fresco, chopped cilantro and a spritz of lime.