Tuesday, September 30, 2008

On Legumes, and a Strikeout

cranberry beans
Work travel makes food blogging pretty impossible. However, when I got back yesterday, I found that our copy of the Rancho Gordo cookbook had arrived from Amazon.com. I've been cooking a lot of legumes (i.e. beans) this year, but that's a fairly new thing for me. I've always ordered bean dishes at restaurants, finding such things as cassoulet or "white bean crostini" to be irresistible words on a menu, but for the longest time felt uncomfortable making them myself.

When it comes to legumes, too many cookbooks stop short, writing things like: "serve on a bed of cooked lentils". Well, what kind of lentils? cooked for how long? on what heat? soaked? no soak? soaked with what? soak with hot or cold liquid? do you keep soaking liquid? etc ... you get the point.

It's like there was this body of assumed knowledge that I somehow never acquired. I felt amiss because I didn't know the fundamentals and I dislike blindly following a recipe.

This all changed when I received a copy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything earlier this year. All it took was a few coherent paragraphs and the veil was lifted. I've been having fun cooking with dried beans since. I certainly don't feel the archaic stigma that beans were "the poor man's meat", and I have to question if that stigma even exists anymore with any generation that came after the Baby Boomers. I will also note that the whole "gas" issue does indeed go away if you eat them on a slightly more regular basis -- something confirmed by vegetarian friends.

Looping back to tonight, I finally had a chance to look through the Rancho Gordo cookbook (for those who don't know, Rancho Gordo is a neat Californian business that grows and sells heirloom beans). First reaction: unlike my instant love affair with A Platter of Figs, I must say that I'm a little unsure of the Gordo book. For starters, there aren't nearly enough photos, which I'm sure had to do with their publishing budget constraints but it is what it is. An honest photo can tell you a lot about a dish and how it was cooked.

I have to familiarize myself with more of the recipes before I can pass verdict, but I did try the Chili Con Carne recipe tonight and came away puzzled by the cookbook's approach. I tried to follow the recipe pretty faithfully save for using fresh chiles rather than chile powder (the book stresses using pure chile powder rather than chili powder, which is a mix... but I couldn't easily find pure chile powder). The result -- a too-thin soup that was edible but not worth making again.

I'm willing to entertain the notion that I completely messed up, but suspect that more likely the authors and I just have different ideas on what a good chile is. All this said, I remain optimistic that the cookbook will give me good ideas to work from, and I certainly continue to be a customer of Gordo beans.

But, for tonight, my picture of cumin seeds was more interesting than the dish itself...
cumin seed

10 comments:

FoodJunkie said...

i find it strange that you just discovererd cooking with legumes. In Greece we used them all the time. My favourite are by far chickpeas, cooked with oregano and lemon. They get a very meaty taste. They are also nice with tomato sauce. An nothing beats a hearty traditional Greek bean soup, with some sausage if you like it!

Giff said...

Yes, I agree. It seems rather silly now, given how much I have liked to eat legumes that I had not pushed myself to cook with them very much before this year.

I'm the same way with Indian food -- eat it all the time, but do not feel comfortable enough understanding the spice amounts and combinations to make it often myself, and haven't gotten to it yet on my "things to learn" list.

Real greek food is among my favorite in the world, and I am actively trying to expand my repertoire in that direction from my french/american base.

Stacey Snacks said...

It's noon, have a miserable headache, just woke up to Giff's fabulous looking photos of........

BEANS BEANS GOOD FOR THE HEART, THE MORE YOU EAT, THE MORE YOU...........

Guess who?

Giff said...

you are such a griefer, stacey ;-)

feel better! migraines are evil

Nate-n-Annie said...

sometimes cookbooks just blow. Not every one is a hit. Stick with Bittman.

kat said...

I find we eat more & more beans every year especially now that we live in a colder climate but I'd really like to broaden my bean horizons...doesn't sound like this book is the way to do it though.

Giff said...

The Rancho Gordo owner admits that he prefers his beans straight-up with little done to them. That might be indicative!

Still, the honest answer is I just don't know yet. I don't want to let some initial dissatisfaction condemn the whole thing, so will spend a little more time with it.

bee said...

giff, purely chilli powder is available at any Indian grocery store it's just called 'chilli powder' and has pure cayenne, while "Kashmiri chilli powder" is a much milder variety of chilli powder and imparts a deeper red hue. beautiful beans.

bee said...

there's a legume event you may be interested in.

http://whenmysoupcamealive.blogspot.com/2008/09/my-legume-love-affair-recipe.html

Giff said...

thank you bee!