The upper Midwest grows more dried beans (navy, pinto, kidney and small red) than any other region in the U.S., but most of them end up in cans or are commercially dried so that they need to be soaked for a long time before cooking.
But there is a world of difference between organically grown beans that have been grown locally and dried (fresh dried sounds like an oxymoron). Just taste the difference.
Our local vegetable growers are now growing and drying beans in rotation with other vegetables because legumes and beans are natural nitrogen fixers and replenish the soil naturally (without chemicals).
You can find a wide variety of dried beans at the Mill City Farmers Market all year long from Bean Market and in the area's natural food co-ops in the bulk section from Whole Grain Milling Co. in Welcome, Minn. — a miller and distributor of organic grains and beans.
Thanks to the work of the University of Minnesota, more organic farmers are introducing beans into their crop rotations. They're a great source of protein, terrific in soups and stews, and they make a great salad. Freshly dried beans do not require soaking and their flavors are distinctly different.
Bean Market sells nine different varieties of heirloom beans and at the co-ops you'll find black beans, kidney, garbanzo and navy beans from Whole Grain Milling in the bulk sections. Check your local farmers market for growers who may be selling freshly dried beans from their own farms, too.
How fitting that the last fruit of the season happens to be the most beautiful. The cranberries are full on and the crop is bountiful this year.
Wisconsin, alone, grows most of the world's fresh cranberries (NJ and Mass. grow them for pressing into juice and drying). While those photos of flooded fields may be most familiar to people who have heard about the cranberry harvest, there are an increasing number of growers who are using different, old-timey methods, to harvest cranberries in ways that are easier on the land and wildlife; these bogs are habitat for sandhill cranes, ducks and geese.
Cranberries are especially well suited to our northland's wetland, water-soaked areas that create transition points between dry land and open water.
The plants don't grow directly in the water but lay their roots on the edge and thrive in the peat, sand, clay and rock. The cold winters and mild summers make for perfect growing conditions. They're nicknamed "bounce-berries" because they hope and skip when they roll from the counter onto the floor.
Many of the smaller cranberry farms like Ruesch Century Farm, Wisconsin Rapids, grows cranberries the old-fashioned way. The berries are raked off their vines into wooden barrels. This "dry method" is gentler on the berries, keeping them from swelling and then shrinking or becoming too soft so that they'll store longer.
Store dried beans in an airtight container in a cool dry place. They will keep for several months, but it's best to use them within a couple of weeks. Dried beans become tougher and less flavorful as they age. Most commercially packaged dried beans are so old they've lost their uniqueness and those in cans taste mostly of the salt used in processing.
Here's a guide to a few of the varieties you'll find at our farmers market and in our co-ops with descriptions for the best ways to enjoy them.
Black Turtle: This small black bean has an especially rich, full flavor. It's terrific with rice and meat, great in chili and it makes a fabulous salsa.
Cranberry: Sometimes called borlotti. They have an earthy flavor that's slightly nutty, similar to pinto. Wonderful in bean salads.
Calypso: It's a gorgeously dappled black and white bean with a creamy texture, terrific in salads soups and side dishes.
Jacob's Cattle: This plump white and red speckled kidney-shaped bean is firm yet plush. It's perfect for bean salads and soups.
Great Northern: This is the tiny white of the classic cassoulet that's silky smooth and best cooked just past al dente. Mung Beans: These tiny green beans resemble round lentils. They cook super quickly, are mild-tasting, and are favored in curries, soups and spicy stews throughout India and the Near East. I use them as you do red lentils.
A few tips for cooking these freshly dried beans:
• No reason to soak these beans first. Simply simmer them in water to cover by 2 inches until they've reached the desired texture. (Don't boil them, that toughens them up.) They'll cook in about an hour.
• Salt the cooking water as you would pasta. Contrary to most recipes, salt does not toughen the beans.
• Do not add any acid while they're cooking (including tomatoes). That does tend to toughen them.
Any Bean Salsa
Makes about 3-1/2 to 4 cups.
Terrific on nachos and with chips, this is great on grilled fish and chicken. It will keep in the refrigerator for about four days in a covered container. Try this recipe with any of Minnesota's locally grown dried beans.
What you'll need
1/2 pound dried beans, picked over
Water to cover
Generous pinch salt
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 pound tomatoes, cherry or plum, chopped
1 small red onion, minced
1 jalapeno or Serrano chile, ribs and seeds removed, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Put the beans, salt, and garlic cloves in a medium pot and cover with 2-inches of cold water. Set over a high flame, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours, testing for doneness after on hour. Remove, drain and set aside. Save the stock for soup or chili.
In a large bowl, toss together the tomatoes, onion, chile, and cilantro. Toss in the beans and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Both of these recipes make fabulous condiments for turkey, wild game and chicken. Swirl them into mayonnaise for sandwiches or toss them into a salad. Serve them alongside cheeses.
Fresh cranberry relish
Makes about 2 to 2-1/2 cups
3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and sorted
2 tablespoons fresh orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup chopped crystalized ginger, optional
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar or honey to taste
Put all of the ingredients into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and chop until fine. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
Makes about 2 cups
Do not sweeten this sauce until after the berries have popped open as it will make them tough. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to a month.
3 cups fresh cranberries, rinsed and sorted
1/2 cup apple cider
1/4 to 1/2 cup honey, maple syrup, or sugar, to taste
In a medium saucepan, bring the cranberries and cider to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the berries have popped open, about three to five minutes. Stir in the honey (or maple syrup or sugar) to taste. Cool and then store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
This story was written by Minneapolis chef Beth Dooley, you can find her website here.