I love food not just because it’s delicious, or nutritious, but because if you pay attention it tells a story. (Even this hard-boiled egg and avocado toast sitting next to me now…I’d love to learn the history of the hard-boiled egg…but that’s for another time.)
Think for a second about your last family event, was food involved? Or perhaps the last time you had a long chat with a close friend–food? At least for me, when I think back to important times in my life, there are narratives and memories connected to the food that I was eating. Like the time of year (butternut squash in fall), or type of occasion (pies at my wedding, or lox after my grandma’s funeral).
These personal memories fascinate me; but so too does the intersection of oral histories and food. This has actually led me to learn about a brilliant field of study, ethnobotany (the study of how people use plants). I’ve been enamored with this field for quite some time now (since college in 2000 to be exact). When I’m trying out new foods I try to think about the historical stories that may be intertwined with my dish. My newest discovery: Yellow Eye Beans.
Now, I haven’t found too many stories to go along with this heirloom variety from Northern New England, mostly Maine. But I have learned that Yellow Eye Beans were first used by American Indians in the region to make a traditional bean and corn soup, which eventually morphed into succotash (also had at my wedding, it all circles back). Some culinary historians also suggest the bean could’ve been used in the original Boston Baked Bean recipe. Something else I’ve learned…these beans are delicious! Creamy, but not mushy. Rich and savory, but not over-overpoweringly so.
I received these beans in a gift box (you know who you are, and thank you!) and decided to do something rash…follow a recipe! Now I love collecting cookbooks and reading recipes. I have an entire color-coded shelf of cookbooks. Organizing them by color: got it covered; but following recipes precisely: let’s just say it’s not my forte. I do look at the books often. I generally garner inspiration from them and then go about my improvising (note: baking is a different story all together, because improvised baking soda to baking powder ratios never turns out well).
This time was going to be different (or so I hoped). I did a little web search and found this recipe over at the NY Times. I got my ingredients ready and got excited to cook up a stew. I tried, I did…but ultimately I ended up with less time to soak the beans, I eliminated the first few steps, and added a few spices…but it was close, and it was yummy!
Here is the recipe from the NY Times:
3 cups yellow eye beans, soaked 4 to 6 hours
1 carrot, peeled
2 ribs celery, halved
1 onion, quartered
1 head garlic, halved across the equator
Stems from 1 bunch Italian parsley, tied in a cheesecloth sachet
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the soup:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
5 ribs celery, diced
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, diced
1 head garlic, cloves peeled and finely grated
1 1/2 teaspoons red chili flakes, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup canned whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
Rustic bread, sliced
1 clove garlic, halved.
1. Prepare the beans: Drain the beans and place them in a large pot. Add 3 quarts cold water, the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and parsley stem sachet. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the beans are soft and creamy, but not falling apart. (Start checking after 25 minutes; the fresher the beans, the shorter the cooking time.) Add the salt, pepper and olive oil. Discard the sachet and vegetables. Let the beans cool in the liquid.
2. Prepare the soup: Pour the olive oil into a large pot set over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, chili and rosemary. Cook until the rawness of the vegetables is just gone, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until slightly caramelized, about 3 minutes more. Add the beans and their cooking liquid, bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, add the parsley. Toast the bread slices. While still hot, rub them with the garlic halves, then tear into large pieces. Ladle the soup into bowls and top each with a few toasts, then drizzle with olive oil. Serves 6 to 8.
My recipe was slightly different. I didn’t use the spice sachet, but instead added celery greens. Instead of soaking the beans, I boiled water, poured it over and let them sit for about an hour before beginning step 1. I added cumin, cinnamon and paprika to the soup. And I made rosemary, garlic toasts to go with it. See: small modifications. I’d say that I basically followed this one! Check out my photos below and click here to buy Yellow Eye Beans.
Beans from Rancho Gordo
Dry Yellow Eye Beans
Chopping up the leeks.
Sautéing on the stove.
Making the garlic toasts–Yes, that’s a hunk of butter!
The finished version. Warm, super-satisfying and healthy!
Do you follow recipes?