I am sitting by the kitchen table sorting beans. I am called to this task because it requires attention to detail and small fingers – both of which, at the age of ten, I possess. I never, however, understood how those tiny pebbles get inside the bag of beans.
Outside in the backyard, I am lining up my stuffed animals and blankets for my pretend vet clinic. As I glance toward the kitchen window, I hear the familiar humming of the pressure cooker, and my nose gets a sniff of the lunch to come. Beans.
It’s one o’clock in the afternoon when I get home from school with a teenage hunger. At the table, I am greeted with a plate of fresh, hot beans, served over rice.
Beans were a staple food in my Brazilian upbringing, but as I aged and distanced myself physically from my birthplace, beans have become an essential piece of my identity puzzle.
When I cook beans at home, I feel a little more Brazilian and a little less of a fraud. I remember that I came from a place of sounds, tastes, relationships, stories. I remember the people who fed me.
Today, as I find myself living in a tech-driven, upper-class neighborhood of Seattle, making a batch of beans from scratch is an experience that often ends in a mix of gratitude and yearning.
Up until recently, I never had any issues finding beans to purchase at our local grocery store. Moreover, I often had to make sure they were not too old. But all has changed in the past weeks. As our city gets more confirmed cases of COVID-19, my neighbors are apparently devouring beans! As a result of this incredible coincidence, I have not been able to find dry beans at any of the three stores near me.
It’s tempting to assume that people are hoarding bags of dry beans, perhaps lining them in their pantries next to rolls of toilet paper, sacks of potatoes, flashlights, and bottles of hand sanitizer. After all, Seattleites have been bracing for a Big Earthquake for quite a while. Because I have been told that I am often too pessimist and should have more faith in humanity, I decided to consider other, perfectly acceptable scenarios that can explain the sudden bean disappearance from the supermarkets:
- After being deprived of their favorite downtown taco truck lunch (because they now have to work from home), my fellow neighbors developed a craving for Mexican food, which often involves beans.
- Being stranded at home can be stressful, so many decided to make jars of beans and spread them throughout their homes, for the pure pleasure of dipping their fingers in it (try it, it’s magic!).
- An overload of Pie Day posts on social media prompted many people to make pies! If you are a serious pie baker, you know that beans are needed to weigh down the dough on its first baking period – a technique known as blind baking.
Whatever the reason may be for the sudden disappearance of dry beans from stores, one thing is clear: whoever is buying those beans probably doesn’t know how to cook them properly. Fear not! As a good neighbor and a bean expert, I am happy to share with you my recipe for making any beans from scratch. Read on.
- First, open the package of beans and portion how much you’ll need. If you are not sure, start with a cup of dry beans, which can make three or four cups when cooked – and here is the first tip: you can stretch out your beans by adding more liquid. This useful technique has been used for years in households where the mouths to be fed outweigh the family’s paycheck.
- Now, you really should soak your beans for a good eight hours. I know, I know, that takes planning ahead, and you are already so overwhelmed by the prospect of working from your West Elm couch, having to feed your child three meals a day – and all those snacks! On top of it all, you are now forced to spend 24 hours a day with your own spouse for days in a row without any end in sight. I get it. Skip the soaking.
- Next, put them in a pot (this may be an excellent opportunity to start using that turquoise Le Creuset Dutch oven you bought on Prime Day two years ago).
- Cover with water by about 2 inches.
- Turn the stove on (provided the world hasn’t ended yet, and you still have running electricity or gas, of course), and cook them until they are soft. To know when they are done, press one bean between your thumb and index finger – if it squishes, it’s good to go. No gadgets needed.
- Salt the beans to your taste and enjoy – keep in mind that overly salted food may require you to drink more water. Perhaps it is wise to order a few more cases of Evian via your Whole Foods Prime 2-hour delivery.
Simple enough, right? If, after reading this, you still think cooking beans is too much work, I recommend grabbing some frozen meals at the store. Oh, wait, I just remembered: those are also gone!