Beans are one of the crops that first drew me to Largo Farm. They have been a staple of my diet for the past twenty years and for the past five I have been attempting to eat locally as much as possible. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that the dried beans I had been purchasing through an organic food co-op were grown in China! Matters only grew worse when I learned that organic foods grown in China are often even more hazardous that those sprayed with chemicals, because the plants draw up heavy metals as their roots dig deep in the soil for nutrients.
Something had to be done. I had sources for local split peas and lentils, but the only beans I could find were of dubious origin. They had been packaged in Saskatchewan, but it was unclear where the beans themselves were from.
This all changed when I learned about Largo Farm. Here was a source of dried beans grown right here in Saskatchewan without the use of chemicals. I ordered a healthy supply of Great Northern and Norwegian brown beans (the farm’s preferred varieties) to get us through the winter.
I also got more interested in growing beans. Devoting space to dried beans in my tiny garden plots was really rather ridiculous. But I couldn’t resist. Beans are just too beautiful. My mother-in-law shared seed from her Tongue of Fire beans and I purchased seed for Hopi black and Annie Jackson’s pole beans. As expected, the few plants I had room to plant did not yield a whole lot of beans. My inexperience made the yield even smaller; much to my surprise, the pods spiraled as they dried, scattering beans in all directions. Dedicated as I was, I picked up as many as I could, but I’m sure that garden will produce beans for years to come (sorry Curtis!). Nevertheless, I was hooked.
Beans were a point of connection when Judy and I met in person, and now that I’m here on the farm, I’ve had the opportunity to experience the cycle of drying, threshing, cleaning and selling.
We have a very traditional way of threshing the beans. When the pulled plants are sufficiently dry, we lay a bundle in a large plastic watering trough lined with a metal screen. We stomp, jump, and dance on the plants, then shake them out, flip them over, and repeat the process. When it looks like most of the pods have ceded their treasure, we toss the plants aside and pour the beans and chaff into a screen. We use our hands to rub off any stubborn pods, then proceed to winnow the chaff by pouring the beans from pail to pail in a windy spot. Cleaning takes place on cool fall days, when we spread the beans out on the table and sort through them to remove any cracked or broken beans and any persistent debris. They are then ready to be weighed, sold and eaten. Yum!
Here are a few of my favourite bean recipes, starting with the hummous that was a bit hit at North Battleford’s Seedy Saturday last week:
Great Northern bean hummous
3 cups cooked Great Northern beans
¼ cup fresh mint, or 1 Tbsp dried
¼ cup fresh parsley, or 1 Tbsp dried
3 Tbsp soy sauce
¼ cup lemon juice
3 large cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
2 small onions, minced
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp chili powder
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree until smooth. (Or, lacking a food processor, make sure the beans are extra well cooked and the onions and garlic minced extra small, and mash everything together with a potato masher.)
One fine feature of Great Northern beans is that they are very soft, with a mild flavour. This means that they puree well and can be added to all kind of baked goods without affecting the flavour. I tend to replace half the fat in my biscuits with pureed beans. I also make a beany pizza crust and scrumptious beany brownies. Here are the recipes:
Beany pizza crust
1 ½ cups pureed beans (Great Northern work great)
1 tsp honey
3 Tbsp yeast
¾ cup warm water
2 ¼ cups flour (I use whole wheat)
1 tsp salt
¼ cup oil (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Knead for 5 minutes, adding additional flour as needed. Let rise 10 minutes, covered, before rolling out and adding toppings.
½ cup butter, melted
½ cup bean puree
¾ cups cocoa
1 cup honey
¾ tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 cup chocolate chips
Mix butter, bean puree, cocoa, honey and salt. Add eggs, one at a time. Mix in vanilla, flour and chocolate chips. Bake in a greased 13 x 9 inch pan at 350 for 22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Of course, beans are also fabulous in soups, stews and casseroles. Here are a couple favourites:
2 Tbsp oil
1 cup chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
2 ½ cups peeled and cubed winter squash
2 celery stalks, diced
½ cup peeled and diced carrots
1 ½ cups cubed potatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
6 cups water
4 cups chopped kale
1 ½ cups cooked beans (I like large soft ones like Great Northern, kidney, Tongue of Fire, Mrs. Kahl’s)
Warm the oil in a large soup pot on medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the squash, celery, carrots, potatoes, oregano, salt, pepper and water and cook for 10 minutes or until the potatoes are almost done. Add the kale and beans and simmer for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the kale is tender and the beans are hot.
(with thanks to Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special)
2 tsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
3 Tbsp garlic, minced or pressed
1 Tbsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp dried oregano
1 to 2 Tbsp water
1 cup peeled and diced carrots
1 cup diced red and/or green bell peppers
1 cup diced zucchini
1 hot Hungarian wax pepper, minced, seeds removed for milder flavour
2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 ½ cups cooked beans (kidney, pinto, or black are ideal)
Salt and pepper to taste
¾ cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp whole wheat flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
1 egg, beaten
½ cup buttermilk, yogurt, or soured milk
2 tsp vegetable oil
Warm 2 tsp oil in a heavy saucepan. Add the onions and garlic, cover and cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, oregano, enough water to prevent sticking, and the carrots. Cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add the bell peppers, zucchini and hot pepper, cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and beans, cover, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Add salt and black pepper to taste.
Preheat the oven to 400.
Grease a 2 quart nonreactive casserole dish. Spread the vegetable-bean mixture in the bottom of the dish. Set aside.
In a mixing bowl, thoroughly combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. In a separate bowl, mix together the egg, buttermilk and oil. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry, stirring until just mixed. Pour the batter directly on top of the vegetable-bean mixture, pressing it down a little with a spatula. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden and a knife inserted into the topping comes out clean.
Garnish with minced scallions, chopped cilantro and sour cream.
Note: A layer of grated cheese may be added between the vegetable-bean mixture and the cornbread topping. Also, an equal amount of seasonal veggie can be substituted for the peppers and zucchini. I’ve been using baked spaghetti squash for the past couple months!