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Cowboy Caviar: The Joy of Cooking Beans

Cooking dried beans is something that was foreign to me for over two decades. When the world of professional cooking forced me to try it, I can tell you, for something seemingly basic, I was quite intimidated. But unnecessarily so! Bean cookery can be a fun, healthy and inexpensive way to master something new in the kitchen.

I have found the key is to soak dried beans for a full twenty-four hours, in two times the amount of water you think you will need. (For some of us, this may require breaking out the pasta pot, or Holiday punch bowl as our soaking vessel.) Once the beans have undergone there bath, discard the soaking liquid and give the legumes a good rinse. Add the soaked beans to a large pot, and cover with stock or water, flavored with any combination of vegetables, herbs, raw bacon, or olive oil. Bring the pot to a simmer, taking care not to let the beans boil, as this will cause them to split. Once you have achieved a gentle simmer, place a piece of parchment paper directly onto the top of the liquid. Let the beans simmer away until they are tender, cooking time could be anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours, depending on the variety of bean, and their freshness.
Once the beans are cooked, remove from the heat and season the remaining liquid with salt. Let the beans cool, in there liquid, so they can absorb the added salt. Adding salt in the beginning of the process breaks down the beans, and the end result will be split and mushy. Once cool, remove the vegetables and herbs. Store the beans in there cooking liquid, until time to use them.

This “Cowboy Caviar” was introduced to me by a family friend, Sonia.The little black beans, glimmering in bacon vinaigrette, are meant to resemble caviar. Although the idea of this dish is to give you a chance to try beans from dry, if your pinched for time, forgot to soak, or dinner is in ten minutes, take a tip from my Mom and make her “Home Made” beans before you move into the “Cowboy Caviar” recipe.

Mom Jackson’s “Homemade” Beans:
1 can, organic Black beans.
1 Fresh Bay Leaf
1/4 Onion
2 Garlic Cloves, Crushed
Stock, Wine, Beer, Water, or any combination of all, enough to cover the beans.

Drain beans, and rinse until the water runs clear. Add all ingredients together. and simmer for ten minutes. Turn off heat, let cool. Remove garlic clove, and onion. Leave the bay leaf, so later, in the middle of dinner, you can exclaim, “Oh! I must have not removed the bay leaf!” The table will marvel at your “Homemade” beans, no one the wiser. This also works with jarred pasta sauce....

Cowboy Caviar:
3 cups dried black beans, cooked, or 2 cups Mom Jackson’s “Homemade” Beans.
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
8 Strips Applewood Smoked Bacon, sliced crosswise into bite size pieces.
1 small red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup Apple Cider Vineger
3/4 cup Olive Oil
2 tablespoons Reserved Bacon Drippings
1/2 cup Fresh Cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Add dried spices to a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. In a small skillet, add chopped bacon and cook until crispy, and well rendered, stirring occasionally. Remove bacon from skillet with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Let the drippings cool, and properly discard all but 2 tablespoons. Add the reserved drippings to the spices, and stir to create a paste. Add the garlic and vinegar, slowly stream in the olive oil, while whisking. (This dressing can be made in a blender or food processor if you have one) Season the dressing with salt, starting with less than you think, because the bacon will add lots of nice, salty flavor. Pour your seasoned dressing over the beans, fold in the red onion and bacon. Add chopped cilantro before serving. This salad is delicious at room temperature, and tends to get better as it marinates, making it a natural choice for picnics, pot lucks and parties.