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What Childhood Image Does the Word “Beans” Conjure?

For my wife, of Mexican descent, it’s solidly pinto beans. We make them a lot around here. Had them for breakfast with an o/e egg and bowl of fruit both Saturday and Sunday.

But when I was a kid, I knew nothing of pinto beans. Chili was chili. There was baked beans, but like chili, not very often.

Nope, for me, “BEANS” meant we were having navy beans with ham in it. I didn’t much care for it as a kid. When mom said “BEANS,” it was always a disappointment. Not sure why. Perhaps it was just the least favorite; or more likely, that a single dish was the meal in itself. …And hell, even breakfast had eggs, bacon, toast, and jam.

Yesterday, I made it for the first time. As you might imagine, these days and ages afford perhaps more of the ham than 4 growing boys got on a single plate in the early 70s.

The “recipe” is ridiculously simple:

  • Navy beans
  • Ham
  • Onion

Here’s how I did it.

  • 2 pounds navy beans
  • 1 smoked pork shank (about 1 pound, w bone)
  • 1 pound ham steak, trimmed of fat
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 quart chicken stock

I didn’t soak the beans (sometimes I do; I do both). Rinsed and into the crockpot with the shank, ham steak, onion, quart of Kitchen Basics UnSalted Chicken Stock, and water to cover the shank. Took about 5 hours on high for the shank meat to melt off the bone, then I let it sit there on high for another hour, uncovered, so some of the liquid would reduce off, thicken a bit, and concentrate flavor.

I needed to add zero salt. I say again, never add salt to a dish where liquid will reduce, until you’re done. Sometimes, it might not need any—most commonly with cured or smoked pork in the mix.

IMG 2718
The way to get “bone broth.” Put a bone in your damn dish!
IMG 2719
No salt or fat added, but I do like finely ground pepper.

If there’s any recipe or dish I post you might be inclined to try, do this one, exactly as outlined. Sit down when you eat because your knees might buckle from flavor intensity and pure mouth-feel satisfaction.

Someone recently asked me in comments what I think in terms of weight loss. We’ve been doing rice, beans and potatoes as staples around here recently. I have leftovers for days on that one above. Of all three, I think beans hold the best promise in terms of satiation leading to eating less, while getting very decent nutrition. I had that bowl at 7m last night and it’s 9am next morning. I am only just beginning to feel the first tinges of hunger, and it’ll be another bowl of that, reheated.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

33 Comments

  1. sdiguana on October 20, 2014 at 09:42

    For me, childhood beans was polonium laced death fed at spearpoint. I can recall being held hostage to a plate of beans or I would not get a birthday one year, chased through the house with a bean. And numerous other traumatizing events. How does one even develop an irrational fear of beans? heh.

    I finally learned to accept beans as an adult by trying Feijoada with Farofa sprinkled on top. Best bean meal ever. I’ve even cooked it up myself on occasion. I also gained a real appreciation of what smoked ham hocks could do to a meal.

  2. Richard Nikoley on October 20, 2014 at 09:54

    “For me, childhood beans was polonium laced death fed at spearpoint.”

    100,000 comments on the blog, and a 1st for that particular image.

  3. Chuck on October 20, 2014 at 10:22

    My mom used to put smoked ham hocks in hers too. My dad was the only one who would eat them. He would give me little pieces to try, and I loved it. When I got older I was more interested in the ham hocks than the beans and my mom had to put more in so my dad could have some too. LOL. Something about that chewy smoky pig skin cooked in bean juice was heaven. She always made cornbread with it too. Break up a piece of cornbread, cover with beans and throw a ham hock on top. Maybe if I can get my gut back in order I can enjoy them again.

    • Richard Nikoley on October 20, 2014 at 11:53

      Yep, cornbread was often featured.

  4. rob on October 20, 2014 at 10:25

    Frijoles negros con arroz

    • pzo on October 20, 2014 at 17:42

      The national dish of Brazil. Mom was born and grew up there, this was a staple in our Anglo household fifty years ago. Now, just trendy shit.

  5. tatertot on October 20, 2014 at 10:32

    My childhood memory of beans was “Big John’s,” they came in a double-can, the top half being the flavorings, the bottom half the beans. I guess it made housewives of the ’70’s feel as if they were ‘cooking’ when they had to separate the cans and mix together.

    My brother and I used to fight for the chunk of pork fat that was in each can.

    Also, Campell’s Bean Soup…with a huge handful of Saltines crunched up in it.

    • Richard Nikoley on October 20, 2014 at 11:56

      I must say, Campbell’s Bean & Bacon was my favorite canned soup. Probably it was decent in the 70s.

  6. Jake on October 20, 2014 at 11:32

    My great-grandmother’s “3 Bean Salad” that I hadn’t tasted since childhood. I decided to make some after reading the gut bug/starch posts on FTA, now I keep some on hand at all times.

    2 day soak on Garbanzos & Kidney beans then cooked, fresh lightly blanched green beans, strips of red and green peppers, onion marinated in cider vinegar, bit of sugar and EVOO. Good stuff.

    http://i58.tinypic.com/117g3gn.jpg

  7. FrenchFry on October 20, 2014 at 11:40

    For me, that’s cassoulet (flageolets beans).
    Your recipe there looks a lot like it actually! Needless to say, I LOVE cassoulet!! 😀

    • Phil Bennett on October 20, 2014 at 12:27

      cassoulet! Nectar of the doGs

  8. Peter on October 20, 2014 at 13:40

    In Sweden we have a traditional peasant dish simply called pea soup. Yellow peas, rinsed and soaked, boiled with some sort of stock and often with cured ham.

    Preferably served with dried thyme and mustard. On thursdays.

  9. Rob2 on October 20, 2014 at 13:55

    This same recipe is on Wikipedia where it is called,
    “Senate Bean Soup” see, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Senate_bean_soup
    According to the article the original recipe also included mashed potato among the ingredients. Even more RS if it is cooled and reheated. Sounds delicious.

  10. Karen on October 20, 2014 at 15:23

    Pretty much bean deprived as a kid. Frozen lima beans boiled in water and salted to eat was the usual. Occasionally baked beans but I didn’t like them then. So it’s a whole new cookin’ world for me!

  11. pzo on October 20, 2014 at 17:46

    My father’s mother grew up in Austria pre-WWI. Middle class, daughter of an engineer. To the day she died, she thought of beans as peasant food.

    Class. Culture. What fucking wastes.

  12. Wilbur on October 20, 2014 at 18:24

    Awesome dish. I have had similar many times. Usually with different beans, but the same idea.

    Two ideas you might like. First, do some sort of runny egg and put over the top. I like sous vide egg where the yolk and white are both runny. Lots of black pepper.

    The second is a trick I only learned recently. Remove the meat and the liquid. This would be for fragile beans like navy. Sturdier beans like pintos can be left in. Put the meat and liquid in a broiler safe casserole dish so that the meat is half submerged. Broil on high under the meat gets a nice brown crust. Turn the meat and repeat. This reduces the liquid and gives lots of browning flavors. Plus the meat has a more interesting grilled-like texture. Add your beans and eat. I will never do a braised/slow cooker meat any other way now.

    • Wilbur on October 20, 2014 at 18:43

      Third thing I like to do – I did it tonight with an Indian lentil dish. When the dish is piping hot, add minced raw garlic to taste. I like raw garlic, and I’ll use a clove in my serving. The small amount of cooking takes the edge off of the garlic, but makes the dish wonderful for garlic fans. Even the initially dubious love the effect.

  13. Gemma on October 20, 2014 at 22:46

    There was never garlic and marjoram missing in my childhood bean soup, both added at the very end of cooking.
    On garlic: crush and rest 10 minutes before adding to the meal.

  14. Alex on October 21, 2014 at 00:51

    Try a hummus made of chana dal, a smaller Indian version of the Kabuli chickpea people are used to seeing. It’s and makes a fantastically smooth hummus – add a couple of garlic cloves, 1 tsp cumin, a half cup of tahini and blend it until it’s the perfect texture. I like it creamy, but not liquidy.

    Just as good, get some red lentils, add some Thai curry paste, a 1/2 onion and a half cup of coconut milk and a tbs of fish sauce and it makes a wonderful, creamy soup you can enjoy with a crust of toasted bread. This is my favorite, but the Turks make a good red lentil soup without coconut milk and different spices if the first version’s not your taste.

    Last, if you’ve made some pinto beans with onion and ham hock, and you’d like to mix it up, do refried beans. Fry up some onion and chorizo if you have any, add some cumin to the hot oil to incorporate, add some beans with some of the liquid – smash, then add some more beans until you’ve got enough. If you think you have too much grease, from the oil and chorizo fat, pour some in a jar. Anything you cook with that fat will taste great, especially eggs.

  15. john on October 21, 2014 at 02:20

    I think I must be high or something, because I’m pretty sure that when I turned that first photo of your bone and ham stew 90 degrees to the right, it looks a lot like an australopithecus with shaved legs laying down playing the violin.

  16. john on October 21, 2014 at 02:23

    Also, I couldn’t care less whether or not my beans have been soaked, dehydrated then rehydrated, freezed, fermented, boiled for 48 hour then resoaked. I eat them out of the can. Real talk!

  17. Remnant on October 21, 2014 at 02:47

    Maybe its because I read the title as “childish” image instead of “childhood” image, but either way the title made me laugh.

    What does any kid think of when he hears beans? Uh, probably not an image but a sound and a smell.

    As my grandmother used to say “beans, beans the musical fruit…”

    Okay, my immature comment for the day.

  18. Rob Turner on October 21, 2014 at 04:00

    Baked beans on toast, the best meal ever and bangers and mash with baked beans instead of gravy.

    What you’re making is pretty much cassoulet. I never understood why the French baked beans had meat in them when I was a kid, now it sounds like a good idea.

  19. golooraam on October 21, 2014 at 08:07

    f’ it Richard
    that looked so good I immediately drove to Marin Sun Farms after work and picked up a beef gelatin bone, a 1 lb ham steak – luckily I already had a smoked ham hock in the fridge along with a big yellow onion – I fussed it up a bit with a bay leaf and a strip of kombu

    I am still unclear on the soak (yay or nay) so I half arsed it and just soaked for 10 hours or so overnight…

    started crockpot this morning – plan is to take a portion tomorrow morning, take to work… freeze, then reheat at home for dinn dinn

    • rick on October 21, 2014 at 08:40

      golooraam, have you had the brussels sprouts at Marin Sun Farms? Deep-fried in pork fat.Amazing!

    • golooraam on October 21, 2014 at 13:34

      Hi Rick

      Yes I have – I was there just a few months ago. They had this burger, it was $22 – but was a blend of 50 day aged ribeye and ground beef – was truly amazing.

      they are such nice ppl, it was a holiday weekend and the food took a long time, as in painfully long… they came by and said we were so nice about the whole meal on the house

    • golooraam on October 22, 2014 at 12:35

      Hi Richard

      this was so delicious
      I took out some yesterday and froze them… then reheated… OMG – so so so good
      I also had some eggs and gluten free toast on the side…

  20. Rob2 on October 21, 2014 at 13:19

    This article has generated in the comments a wealth of good food ideas incorporating beans that I can’t wait to try. For even more legume dishes check out this world wide list on Wikipedia. It seems like almost every nation has a bean dish or dishes.I suspect that many have a very long history. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_legume_dishes

  21. Regina on October 21, 2014 at 17:41

    I can only say the word “bean” as Monty Python pronounces it.

    My mom only made lima beans. Not that well. Seasoned with the run-off from boiled cornbeef, cabbage and potatoes. Meh, irish food every night.

  22. Lucky+Grams on October 22, 2014 at 08:38

    Boston baked beans with brown bread or green beans. Didn’t have refried beans until I was 16…missed so much! I am shocked that bringing beans, potatoes and rice back into my diet, as Rs, has caused no weight gain…love it!!

  23. joseph on October 22, 2014 at 15:14

    Being Jewish it looks like traditional “Chulent”
    which we eat every sabbath for the day meal

  24. Adriana on November 5, 2014 at 00:19

    Colombian beans and rice are awesome. Go out of your way to use Cranberry Beans or Goya Cargamento Beans and you will never use pinto or kidney beans again.

    http://www.mycolombianrecipes.com/paisa-pinto-beans-frijoles-paisas

  25. SusieCruising on November 5, 2014 at 03:58

    I once lived in Puerto Rico. Very fond memories of arroz con gandules (pigeon peas = legumes).
    I think Latinos have a way with legumes, as do the French…I once had a cassoulet – wow unbelieverable – I think it was like Northern while beans slow cooked with sausage and onions in a clay oven. I was thinner when I ate beans

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