(Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free)
Forever, it was cold and rainy here. Until it turned hot and rainy. We hurtled right over the top of spring, never even nicking the surface, and landed thick in the misty quicksand of a Midwestern summer. The air feels like something that just won’t die, clinging damply and frantically to everything that moves.
Needless to say, I’ve been reluctant to light up the stove, let alone consider engaging the fire-belching dragon I call Oven. Although watch, when, deeper into summer I cackle in the face of adversity and delve into a dog-days baking frenzy. I’ll turn off the AC and open the windows and dial up the oven until the next door neighbors are protesting the backwash of brackish heat downdrafting from my kitchen.
But I’m not there yet. So, this weekend I teetered on the tallest stool I could find, and stretching precariously, groped around in the dark bowels of my above-the-cabinets cabinets, until I had my crock pot in my hands. It needed a good cleaning, but that was done soon enough.
Still, I was having trouble deciding what to do with it once it was scrubbed down. Hot and spicy, an urban rendition of the Mexican field workers chewing habaneros to stave off heat-induced apathy? Or did I want something cooling, something that could shut that dragon’s mouth for good?
Never one to settle, I chose both.
Only a recipe like this one could come of heat-wrought apathy and ADD. And from being in a hurry to return to the book I was reading (and will be reviewing here later in the week — Heirloom: Notes From an Accidental Tomato Farmer, by Tim Stark). I looked around my kitchen, looked at the crock pot. Took an armful and shoveled it all in.
Not quite so crudely as that, since I did chop things and I put some thought into the spice combination. I wanted flavors that would shock me awake, not through a spicy assault but rather by taking me aback. I wanted to marry the irreconcilable. I aimed for smoky, spicy, sweet, citrusy, lively, full-bodied with a hint of … licorice. Plus some lemon zest olive oil, and a garnish of cucumber to cool things down. Try this, just as I have it here – trust me on this. I won’t let you down (and you can tell me if I do).
The heirloom appaloosa bean is related to the pinto bean (do these beans look equine?) and it is also sometimes referred to as the Anasazi bean.
The Anasazi people were a Southwestern tribe, making their home in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona more than 1,000 years ago. The civilization disappeared abruptly, leaving few clues to their whereabouts. Anthropologists now believe that the civilization had a split outcome. Some members migrated and were absorbed into other cultures; it is believed that descendents of these people live in New Mexico and parts of Arizona today. The rest of the population ascended into the high mesa tops during the 1200s. The only reason for a people to choose such harsh and unarable conditions is to escape enemies. It seems, however, that warfare was all around them. Under environmental stress and living so remotely, it is believed that the tribe families resorted to raiding one another’s supplies and, eventually, to cannibalism. This, however, is a topic of hot and serious debate among the scholarly community, and no conclusions have been reached.
I can, however, speak definitively about the appaloosa bean. For one, it looks like it should taste of licorice. It doesn’t, but that didn’t stop my imagination from magnifying the flavor imparted by toasted anise seed. The appaloosa bean actually has a sharp, piney, slightly herbaceous flavor.
The thing I love best about this heirloom bean is that it holds its curved bean shape even after it’s cooked. The thing I like least about it is that the way it accomplishes this is by refusing to soften at all, so even after the beans were well cooked, they were a bit dry and mealy under my teeth.
I’ll take it though, because (and maybe this should be my favorite thing about them) they were surprisingly easy to digest. Apparently, the appaloosa bean contains just 25% of the complex carbohydrates that make beans equal to gastric distress, so this is a good one to try if beans cause you pain (but honest, eat enough and your body really does adjust).
What else? Don’t forget the lemon zest olive oil and the cucumber for a cooling garnish — the lemon is the liveliest flavor here. And with that, let’s cook!
(Remember, this is a crock pot recipe, so you’re starting out with uncooked beans.)
Smoky-Sweet-Citrus-Spicy-Cool Appaloosa Beans for a Hot Day
8 ounces dry Appaloosea beans (or substitute a dry black bean)
6 cups water
A whole lot of garlic – say, 7 or 8 cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium white onion, peeled and diced
1 jalapeno pepper (seeded for less heat, or with seeds to kick it up a notch)
3 canned chipotle peppers, plus a bit of their sauce (you can also use dried chipotle)
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 14 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon anise seeds, toasted (see below)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, plus ½ teaspoon dried (or 1 teaspoon dried if fresh is unavailable)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary (if available – if not, skip instead of using dried)
2 bay leaves
1 ½ teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1 dash of liquid smoke
Lemon zest-infused olive oil
There are two ways to soak dry beans before cooking. You may place them in a pot and cover them with water and let them sit for 8 hours or overnight. In a pinch, you can cover them with water, bring them to a boil, let roil for 1 minute, then remove from heat. Let them soak for an hour, and then you’re ready to roll.
Place soaked beans in crock pot, along with garlic, onion, jalapeno, bell pepper, chipotle, and fire roasted tomatoes. Add water.
On a stove top, heat a small non-stick skillet. Place the anise seeds in the skillet and cook, stirring or shaking occasionally, until they are toasted. They will turn a shade darker and will begin to crackle when toasted. Remove from heat.
Add anise seed, coriander, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves, cocoa powder, sugar and liquid smoke to crock pot. Stir ingredients well, then turn crock pot on high. Let heat up, about 20 minutes, then turn heat to medium. Allow to cook till beans are soft and water is absorbed, about six hours. About halfway through, stir well then replace lid tightly.
While mixture is stewing, grate the peel of one lemon to obtain the zest. Add this to 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil.
Before serving, stir stew again. Remove bay leaves and rosemary sprig. Garnish with cucumber slices and drizzle with lemon zest olive oil.