The day my son was born, I had taken off from work with big plans to cook all day and stock the freezer in preparation for his impending arrival.
I’m not always great at planning ahead, but I felt really on top of things this time. I had freshly dried pinto beans from the farmers market soaking in a big pot of water on the stove, a vegetable bed overflowing with swiss chard and a pile of potatoes on the kitchen counter.
The baby wasn’t due for a another month and, if all went according to plan, I’d have a freezer full of homemade soups, potato knish, and pinto beans simmered with swiss chard waiting for me when that day finally came.
All did not go according to plan.
The impatient baby turned up nearly five weeks early. By the time I was home from the hospital, the pinto beans had started to sprout. The potatoes soon went soft and the chard in the neglected garden began to wilt.
Thank goodness for the friends who sprang into action and dropped off dinners nearly every night for two solid weeks. I honestly don’t know what we would have eaten without them.
Fast forward six months and some of those farmer’s market pintos were still languishing in my pantry. The garden was still neglected but the chard, somehow, still managed to grow.
I’ve mentioned this chard before. I never intentionally planted it, but assume a few chard seeds somehow managed to find their way into one of the seed packets I purchased for leeks or carrots or any number of other vegetables, none of which have grown anywhere near as vigorously as those rogue leaves.
So last week I finally got around to making the pinto beans with swiss chard that I had originally planned to cook last summer.
The truth is, this recipe makes a hearty bowl of beans probably better suited to January than July anyway. Serve them up with a hunk or two (or three) of skillet cornbread, spoon them over some fluffy rice, or stash a couple servings in the freezer for the next time you need a quick and effortless home cooked meal.
This dish is simple to prepare but does take a bit of forethought because the beans need to soak before cooking.
Last week I started soaking my beans only to become sidetracked and unable to finish what I'd started (again!).
Unwilling to waste any more of these lovely -- and expensive -- beans, I drained them and popped them in the freezer for a couple of days until I could get back to them, at which point I proceeded with the recipe as usual.
I found the finished beans to have slightly tougher skins than usual, but it was certainly a workable solution.
Another note: swiss chard works wonderfully with the pintos but you can substitute spinach if you prefer.
- 1 cup dried pinto beans
- 1 to 2 T. vegetable oil
- 1 large bunch Swiss chard (enough for about 2 cup stems and 6 cups leaves)
- 1 small onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 tsp cumin
- pinch cayenne
- vinegar (white or cider)
- 1 cup diced tomatoes (canned are fine, especially this time of year)
- about 3 T mixed fresh herbs (such as oregano, thyme and sage)
Rinse the beans and pick them over, discarding any stones and broken or wrinkled beans.
Cover with water and soak overnight or for at least 8 hours.
Wash the chard by submerging in a basin of cold water, swishing gently and then allowing any dirt or sediment to settle to the bottom of the bowl before pulling the chard out and drying on a dishtowel.
Chop the onion and chard stems into medium-sized dice and sauté over medium heat in about a tablespoon of vegetable oil.
Chop the chard leaves into short, fat strips.
When the onion is soft but not yet colored, add the minced garlic, the cumin and the cayenne and sauté for a minute more.
Add the beans and three cups of water.
Bring to a boil and then lower heat to a lively simmer.
Cook for about 45 minutes, adding water as necessary to keep the beans covered.
Test after 45 minutes. When the beans are nearly done (they will have begun to soften) add tomatoes, a splash of vinegar, a couple of big pinches of salt, a pinch of sugar, chopped chard leaves and the herbs.
Continue cooking until the beans are tender but not mushy, about 1 hour total if your beans are fresh, but possibly longer.