Sunday, August 23, 2009

Day 157 - Perfect Beans and Short Grain Brown Rice

Perfect Beans (p. 398)

There she goes again, calling something "perfect." It's a ballsy claim, and yet, I have to hand it to her as usual. Martha always manages to achieve the consummate version of whatever she calls "perfect" or "the very best."

Here we have beans, nothing fancy or showy. Just a pot of beans. But there's a lot of subtle flavor layering going on here. First of all, she specifies borlotti beans, aka cranberry beans. I found some at Whole Foods, but not in a big 365 bag. You'll find this one in the fancy gourmet bean section. That little plastic bag holds exactly the 2 cups you'll need for this recipe.

I was introduced to cranberry beans in another recipe from the book, Kale and Shell Beans, but those were fresh beans, while these are dried. I didn't get a strong read from the fresh ones, mostly because it was such a novelty to be eating a bean that hadn't been dried.

Here, it's easier to appreciate the borlotti bean, because you can compare it to all the tried-and-true dried beans you've eaten. These plump up quite a bit after having been soaked. They're rounder than a kidney bean, but I'd say they're about as big, i.e. pretty big for a bean. They have a nice smooth consistency, and is that a hint of sweetness I taste? It's fun to have my bean world expanded a bit.

The beans are cooked pretty traditionally, in water with some flavor add-ins: crushed garlic, fresh sage, salt, and a nice big piece of pancetta. For a change, they cooked on the quicker side of Martha's timings. (She predicts 1:00 - 1:15, but I took these off before the hour was even up.)

Alert!! There's a very important direction here, and it's somewhat hidden in the book. Martha tells you to finish off the dish with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, but she doesn't put this in the directions or the ingredients list! She only mentions them in the paragraph leading up to the recipe. So if you don't read the book thoroughly, you will miss this very crucial instruction.

See, here's the thing. The beans taste just fine once they're done cooking. You could definitely serve them, and they'd be respectable, tasty beans. But if you add the lemon juice, olive oil, and S+P, it launches them into a whole other flavor galaxy. All of a sudden, they're working on multiple levels, giving you bright, salty, creamy, tangy, smoky, sweet, spicy, etc. I love multilevel taste sensations!

Clearly, that last step is not negotiable. You absolutely must remember to locate and execute the hidden finish.

Who knew simple beans could be so satisfying and, dare I say, "perfect?" Why, Martha, of course!

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Short Grain Brown Rice (p. 412)

Underlining the perfect simplicity of the beans, this is a flawless recipe for one of my favorite kinds of rice. Short grain brown rice is the one you're most likely to get if you ask for brown rice in an Asian restaurant.

Normally, the Chinese restaurant brown rice is served somewhat dry, which is not necessarily a bad thing. But this rice, prepared exactly as specified in the book, comes out especially delicious: fluffy, and a little wet/sticky, but still with that classic nutty flavor. Texture-wise, I would describe it as having a heavy lightness to it.

I think this may be the best rice I've ever cooked.

Jeff: A
Martha: A

Until we eat again....

Marcy was in veggie heaven.

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