White beans– think navy beans, cannellini beans, gigantes– are another great food for exploring seasoning.  Again, like eggs, they are relatively cheap so you can feel free to experiment in a way that you probably would not feel toward a rack of lamb or wild Alaskan salmon fillets.  They also absorb flavors and have a mellow flavor that works very well as a blank canvas.

There are several approaches.  First, you can use canned beans to make one or two servings (quickest and slightly more $$).  Second, you can can cook up a large batch of dried beans plain and play with them in small amounts (easiest if you have a pressure cooker and freezer space for storage).  Third, you can cook up a large batch of dried beans with one flavor combination (best if you have storage space and are sure that the combination will work well or are going to a party and can take your experiment with you).  Each approach works well in certain circumstances.

To cook plain dried beans, soak for eight + hours, change the water and boil for 90 minutes or until tender on the stove.  Lentils and split peas do not need to be soaked, and generally cook in 20-50 minutes depending on the variety.  If you are using a pressure cooker, see its directions.  Portion into containers and freeze what you will not use in 5-7 days.  Label.

Seasoning beans as they cook forces the flavor farther into the bean rather than just over the surface.  To season the beans as they are cooking, soak and set aside in a strainer.  Add 1 T to 1/4 c oil to the pot.  When hot, add any onion, celery, shallots, and garlic to the pot.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender.  Stir in the herbs or spices, and cook for 30 seconds.  Add the beans.  Stir well.  Add water to cover plus 1 inch.  Simmer, covered, until tender, stirring occasionally.  Add water if needed.  Adjust the seasoning toward the end of the cooking time.  Finish with any fresh herbs, extra oil, lemon juice or vinegar.  Puree if desired.

To season pre-cooked beans (canned or homemade), proceed as above but you only need to cook until the beans are heated through.  Be sure any aromatic vegetables like the onion are well-cooked before you add the beans to the pot.  Making these dishes can be very fast– as quick as 7 or 8 minutes if you are just adding garlic and a few spices– and easy to portion out the right amount for one person.  I usually eat about 1/2 c for a side dish or 1 c for a main dish.  They also generally reheat very well.

Specific ideas:

North Africa: flavorful olive oil, cumin, garlic, chili pepper, flat leaf parsley, lemon juice

Italy: flavorful olive oil, garlic, onion, oregano, touch of thyme, a few red pepper flakes, and a touch of white wine vinegar

Italy II: Olive oil, garlic, rosemary (if you’re using dried whole leaves, remove before serving), lemon juice

Southern American: smoked turkey wing piece (use one piece for 6-8 servings), bay leaf, touch of hot sauce, minced green onion tops

Indian: onion, spicy curry powder, coconut milk, garam masala

The options are endless.  Dill, garlic, and lemon would also be delicious.  I’m sure you can think of other ideas to try.  Or, post up an idea and see if anyone else thinks it would be good.

Need a real recipe?

South of the Border Beans

1 lb white beans (dried)

1/4 c olive oil

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 T cumin

1 small dried chili pepper

1 T dried oregano

2 T lime juice

Chopped tomato and cilantro, to garnish

Follow the procedures describe above on how to cook seasoned dried beans.  Cook an additional 30-40 minutes or until the beans have begun to break up.  Stir frequently.  Remove chili pepper before pureeing or serving.  Serve with tortilla chips or on tortillas.