It doesn’t happen often, but every once in a while, someone does invent a better mousetrap.
Browsing the produce department at my local grocery store a couple of weeks ago, I happened across a plastic tub of black-eyed peas. These were not canned peas in a different package but dried peas that had been soaked and were ready for cooking. According to the directions, they needed only 15 minutes or so to be ready (in my tests, it was more like 20--but that can vary according to your taste).
In the greater scheme of life, ready-to-cook black-eyed peas certainly will not rank up there with universal peace or a cure for cancer. But in my world, this is pretty earthshaking stuff (and no, phaseolus fans, that was not a pun).
Beans are among my favorite foods. Given the right situation, I could probably live on them alone--well, I might also need a few pork products to be really happy.
Unfortunately, those circumstances include plenty of time for cooking, and for most of the week, that is a luxury I don’t have. Most cookbooks tell you to soak beans overnight before cooking them. That requires a foresight I manifestly lack.
Of course, beans don’t really have to be soaked before preparation, although it does speed up the cooking process by half an hour to an hour (soaking’s supposed beneficial effects on the digestive tract are simply hogwash).
What’s more, I prefer the taste of unsoaked beans: That beany flavor is deeper and more pronounced, and the cooking liquid is thicker and more flavorful.
The drawback to not soaking beans is that it extends the cooking time. Granted, it’s only an hour and a half of unaccompanied cooking (as compared with 45 to 60 minutes for soaked beans), but that still doesn’t fit into my weekday schedule.
Canned beans are an alternative, but they’ve been cooked so much during the canning process that they’re usually mushy. I’ll use them cold, as for a salad, but heating them any further usually is counterproductive.
Now along come these 20-minute tubbed beans, and my world has changed. I’ve tried them several ways. The first time I just boiled them with a little bit of bacon. Then I branched out and tried them in a warm salad. Each time, I was impressed with the creamy, slightly chewy texture and the nutty, slightly sour-cream flavor, which is as close to fresh black-eyed peas as I’ve found.
Finally, for some reason, the idea of browned mushrooms and black-eyed peas came to mind. I have no idea where the notion came from, but it really works well. The earthiness of the browned mushrooms is a perfect match for the taste of the beans.
Make sure there’s plenty of garlic and parsley to complete the match (this method of preparing mushrooms makes a perfect side dish by itself; with the black-eyed peas, it takes on main-dish heft).
Beans every night! What’ll they think of next?
Soaked black-eyed peas are available at grocery stores under the Melissa’s label. The company also sells soaked garbanzo beans, whole green peas and black beans and, in limited amounts, pinto beans. For information on store locations, or to order by phone, call (800) 588-0151.