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Achenblog Recipe for Quick Beans

    Some people don't know beans about beans. They think of beans as an exotic, fussy type of food that only the most skilled chefs can prepare, liked potatoes Dauphinoise or shrimp quenelles or medallions of ferret. But I'm here to tell you that beans are actually a very down-to-Earth foodstuff. Don't be intimidated by them. Take a deep breath and go for it. And remember: Contrary to what you hear on the street, you don't need all weekend to make a pot of beans. My recipe for "Quick Beans" takes at most a single day.

     You start with your basic small red beans, though pinto beans work too. Available at any supermarket. You sort them (looking for rocks), rinse them and soak them. Six or 8 or 10 hours later, you add water, bring them to a boil, drain them, then add water and bring them to a boil a second time. Naturally you'd want to add homemade stock, but you can get by (because these are just Quick Beans) with a couple of cans of storebought chicken broth, plus two or three chicken drumsticks and a big smoked turkey wing or a couple of ham hocks.

    About this time you'll want to take some wood, such as black walnut, and soak it in water.

    After an hour or so, you add to the bean pot some finely chopped onions, garlic, maybe a little green pepper, one jalapeno pepper, some cumin and black pepper, some chili powder, and the all-important Randomly Grabbed Spices. (Needless to say, nothing in this recipe is measured.)

    Then you add your sausage -- whatever you can scrounge up that looks interesting. It's important to be on the lookout, pretty much 24/7, for good sausage. The other day when I threw together some Quick Beans, I used three smoked andouille sausages from Safeway, cubed, and, most importantly, some homemade sausage that my friend Mike got from his parents down in LaBelle, Fla. I have no idea what was in that sausage, and I don't need to know, because you could smell the authenticity.

    You want to turn down the heat to keep things at a modest boil while the beans continue to soften. Around this time it's good to crank up the charcoal grill and throw the soaked wood onto the coals, and let it catch fire. While periodically tending the beans in the kitchen, you should hang out in the back yard and grill, with the lid closed for create maximum smokage, a couple of ribeye steaks, some chicken, and boneless pork ribs.

   When the beans are finally "cooked" you want to add a little salt. Never add salt too early in the process. But keep in mind: When they're "cooked" is not the same thing as when they're finished. Because these are Quick Beans, you don't have to cook them for two or three days, but you definitely want to let them hang out on the stove for a while and get their bearings. Plus, you've got more doctoring to do.

    You need to rummage around the pantry for dried red chili peppers. Seed them and soak them in very hot water for 20 minutes. Then blend them into a puree, and add to the beans. Next, ladle some beans into the blender (removing as much sausage as possible) and make a bean paste that you can put back in your pot as a thickener.

    Somewhere around this time you can, if you want, take out the chicken drumsticks, smoked turkey wing, ham hocks or whatever else you were using for your instant stock. Some folks are known to pop open a beer during this long simmering process.

    Eventually you might actually eat the beans, though this is optional. You can serve the beans over rice, but I prefer to eat them as they are, plain, with just some Tabasco, ground black pepper, a little vinegar, a little olive oil, plus the hunks of grilled steak, chicken and pork ribs, all mixed in a single bowl. 

    Quick Beans!

    [I know I've said this before, but I learned everything I know about beans from my brother, Kevin, who is known in Boulder as the King of Beans. He's also a noted connoisseur of salsa, but weirdly enough he's never been interested in bean dip. Go figure.]    

By Joel Achenbach  |  February 24, 2006; 8:35 AM ET
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