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Cooking with beans is a challenge for me. I feel comfortable using them in soups, and to a lesser degree, in burritos and wraps. After those avenues are exhausted, I am usually out of ideas. A few years ago I found a recipe (more of a cooking method, actually) from Jose Andres for simmering white beans with lots and lots of garlic, a bit of rosemary, some pepper and a healthy splash of olive oil. We ate those beans alongside chicken, pork, squash, etc. until both R & I felt like we never wanted to see a cannellini bean again, ever, regardless of how delicious it might be. I went through the white bean hummus phase, also short-lived, and a brief obsession with fresh lima beans. The reason I keep try, trying again is that I know beans are good for me, a versatile, low-fat, nutrient-dense, protein-rich substitute for the animal proteins I am trying to cut down on in our weekly meals. The problems? I never remember to soak them in time. The texture of an improperly-cooked bean is especially off-putting to my husband and we have different opinions about cooked vs. mush. Why not buy canned beans? Concerns about BPA and costs of canned beans vs. their dry, bulk counterparts mean that isn’t always an answer for me.

I hate the fact that I have so many excuses, and I am a stubborn lady, so I will keep on trying to incorporate beans into more meals. I am learning to use my pressure cooker to avoid hours and hours of cooking. I write sticky notes to myself reminding me to “Soak those beans!” and “Remember you have beans soaking!” I keep using beans as a substitute in favorite dishes where they make sense to me– even when those recipes are another soup, stew or wrap. I continue searching for new bean-centric recipes, which is how I found this gem: braised beans with leeks, from the lovely cookbook The Sprouted Kitchen by Sara Forte. This book makes sense to me; her cooking style is similar to mine and the recipes gravitate toward the same ingredients and preparations I use most often. The photographs, taken by her husband Hugh, are attractive and appealing. The recipe for braised beans with leeks stood out because it just looked so good, and approachable, and reminded me distantly of the all-day-in-the-oven baked beans my Mom and aunt are famous for. Maybe this could be my version of baked beans!

I really, truly enjoy these braised beans; my husband loves them and asked me to make them often (which is just shocking) and they were so easy to make. The leeks and other vegetables essentially dissolve into the broth to make the most incredible cooking liquid; the finished dish is almost stew-like, smells delicious and is hearty and filling. You really just need time and some good ingredients, and patience. Below is the recipe for my take on this delicious dish; I highly recommend that you find a copy of The Sprouted Kitchen and try Sara’s recipe as well (it features different seasonings and cheeses), which will also give you the chance to flip through and find more meals to make. Her website, Sprouted Kitchen, is also a wonderful resource for recipes and information on cooking whole foods. As far as my personal battle adventure with beans, feel free to send me other recipes or links you think I might enjoy; I am not going to stop trying. I know there are more gems like this out there!

braised beans & leeks

Braised Beans and Leeks (adapted from The Sprouted Kitchen)

  • 1 lb. dried orca beans, also known as yin-yang beans, or use cannellini beans
  • 2 T. butter
  • 3 leeks, light green and white parts only, washed and sliced thinly
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 T. dried thyme
  • 2 tsp. El Greco seasoning (or 1 tsp. each dried oregano and basil)
  • salt & pepper 
  • 4 c. chicken broth
  • 3/4 c. shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1/2 c. shredded Iberico cheese (pecorino romano would be a suitable replacement)

Day 1: Soak the beans overnight in three times their volume of cool, clean water.

Day 2: Pick out any debris that floats to the top of the soaking beans and check for rocks or other undesirable elements. Drain and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. In a large, ovenproof Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat and cook the leeks, celery and garlic until soft and fragrant, about 7 mins. Add the thyme and El Greco (or equivalent spices) along with a generous few grinds of pepper and a pinch of salt and mix well. Add the beans and broth to the pot. Cover the pot and carefully transfer to the oven; braise the beans for 3-4 hours. Check for doneness by tasting a bean or by smashing it (gently) against the side of the pot; if it is cooked it should yield to pressure and become paste (not crumble) without a great deal of force. When the beans are cooked to your satisfaction, taste and adjust seasonings if necessary, then sprinkle the top with cheese. Increase the heat of the oven to 500 degrees and broil, with the cover off, for 8-10 mins., until the cheese is melted and golden brown.

Serve the braised beans as an entree with crusty bread or as a side dish. This recipe makes a ton; leftovers are as tasty, though the cheese becomes incorporated and is no longer a crusty, delicious topping. If you want to freeze the dish, I recommend doing so before adding cheese.