January 19, 2012
Island Cooking:
Beans are warm and satisfying, healthful, and economical


The other morning, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees in two hours and winter arrived. It was time for rich, warming, and satisfying food. 

Dried beans fill that bill.  And they are healthful too, not to mention economical. An inexpensive one-pound bag goes a long way.

They are available in many varieties and in every grocery store.  If you want to get “fancy,” there are heirloom and traditional imported varieties just a Google search away.

Canned beans are quick but not as flavorful, and they are processed as well, something I see as undesirable.  With the dried types you have to plan a little ahead, just a little.

Most require an overnight soak, an easy task.  Sift through the beans to ensure there are no pebbles or dirt, place in a saucepan and cover with water before you retire for the night.  One bag usually requires 5-6 cups of water.

In the morning, drain and rinse and you are ready to get to get cooking.  If you don’t use them right away store them, covered, in the fridge.

There are thousands of ways to enjoy beans, and every culture on earth uses them in some form.

Since we are in the South, we’ll start with the good luck dish served on New Year’s Day -- Hoppin’ John or black-eyed peas and rice.  It is served with a mess of robust greens, usually collards. 

Much as I love collards, on New Year’s Day I skip them and here’s why.

Our dinner is a bit of a one-tone, colorless mess since I am superstitious and include a Pennsylvania-style good luck supper from my childhood of mashed potatoes, served with pork and sauerkraut, cooked together in a baking dish and flavored with fennel powder and pickling spices and a little white wine. 

Hoppin’ John and sauerkraut is certainly not an inspired menu, and I wouldn’t serve it to friends. But it gives us two shots at good luck in the coming year.

FYI:  I break the no-processed foods rule for this since I don’t make my own sauerkraut.  I buy the bagged sauerkraut found in the refrigerated area of the market, never the canned.

But, as Richard Watson says on the topic of processed versus fresh food in “The Philosopher’s Diet,” his uniquely erudite diet book, “You see, I do know you can’t keep a pig in your condominium.”

By the way, I also use canned tomatoes rather than the mealy and flavorless “fresh” tomatoes available in the winter.

Hoppin’ John is a Low Country dish with West African origins.  Beans, especially field peas, were brought with slaves from Africa and rice, thanks to the hard labor of those African slaves, became the economic engine of the South Carolina coastal plantation economy.  The combination of beans and rice became the staple diet of the slaves on those southern plantations. 

In place of field peas, many people now use the similar and more commonly available black-eyed peas.


1 cup of soaked and rinsed dried black-eyed peas
1 dried hot pepper, chopped
1 smoked ham hock or 1/2 piece of salt pork, rinsed and rind cut off
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup long grain rice
Water to cover

Place first four ingredients in a pot and cover with water.  Gently boil until about 2 cups of liquid remain.  Add the rice, cover and simmer over low heat for about 20 minutes.  Do not lift the lid.  Remove from heat and allow the rice to steam, still covered, for another 10 minutes.  Uncover.  Fluff with a fork and serve.

With the rest of the soaked beans I made a slight variation to the recipe, but I think it was even better than the original.  I added about 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, some garlic powder, dried scallion, chopped celery, and red rice that gave the dish more heft.   Wild rice would do the same.  For a change, this was more of a soup.

For some reason tomatoes pair beautifully with beans, maybe because they are both “new world” foods.  I use them a lot in combination.

Another bean dish with West African origins is African Peanut Stew.  Again, you use beans and tomatoes and you add peanuts or ground nuts as they are called in Africa.  This recipe came from the lid of Santa Cruz Organic Peanut Butter (creamy) that I got for another purpose at Conner’s but it sounded so good I got diverted.

You never know where you will find a good recipe!


3-4 pounds of chicken pieces
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons oil (use peanut oil)
1 large chopped onion
1 cup organic peanut butter
1 - 14 1/2 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 cup warm water
1 pound dried garbanzo beans (chick peas), soaked
1 cup chopped carrots
1 cup chopped potatoes
1/2 teaspoon thyme

Season chicken pieces with salt and pepper.

Heat oil in heavy frying pan. Working in batches, brown the chicken and transfer to bowl.
Add onions to the pan and cook until brown and soft, about 5 minutes.

Combine peanut butter and tomatoes with 1 cup warm water in a medium bowl.
Add mixture to onions, scraping up any brown bits.

Return chicken to pan, add garbanzo beans, carrots, potatoes and thyme.

Reduce heat to medium low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender, about 1 hour. Serve over cooked rice.

A combo made in heaven, pork and black beans take to many different flavorings but they are especially good with Caribbean and Latino seasonings.  Leftovers make great tacos!


1 large onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small pork loin
Smoked sweet paprika or chipotle powder
2 cups dried black beans, soaked
2 teaspoons cumin
1 large can chopped tomatoes with their juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooking oil

Heat the oil in a large ovenproof pan or preferably a clay casserole that can be used on both stovetop and oven.

Saute onion, green pepper and celery until softened but not browned. Saute garlic just long enough to soften it as well. Remove from the pan and set aside.

Turn up the heat and add more oil of necessary. Coat all sides of the pork loin with the paprika or chipotle powder. Brown the pork in the flavored oil.

Add the black beans, tomatoes, and the seasonings. Cook in a medium oven (about 300 degrees) for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

This can be served with rice cooked with a touch of saffron.  Bread would also be great instead of rice for variation and then you can sop up the juices with it.

A version of the ever popular Pasta e Fagiole from Tuscany, this hearty soup includes cannellini beans which I like a lot, although traditionally cranberry or even red kidney beans are used.  For this, I definitely use my Italian clay bean pot.


Olive oil
2 tablespoons onion, chopped
3 tablespoons carrots, chopped
3 tablespoons celery, chopped
3 or 4 pork ribs or a ham bone with some lean meat or 2 small pork chops
2/3 can Italian plum tomatoes, cut, with their juice
1 cup soaked beans (I use cannellini)
3 cups beef stock
A small chunk of the rind of fresh parmesan
2 dried bay leaves
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 pound macaroni or orzo
1 tablespoon butter
Fresh parmesan to grate

Heat oil in a skillet. Add onions and soften (do not allow to brown). Add carrots and celery and stir to coat. Add pork. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning occasionally,

Remove from heat and place the vegetables and pork in the clay pot or ovenware. Add tomatoes and juice, beans and broth, bay leaves and cheese rind. Place lid on.

Put in cold oven if using clay and set to 250 degrees. Cook for about 2 hours, checking for density of soup and adding more broth if necessary.

Remove about 1/2 cup of the beans and mash them before returning to pot. Add the pasta and cook another few minutes but don’t let the pasta overcook. Season with salt and pepper
Swirl in the butter and grated cheese.

Ladle into tureen or serving bowl and serve warm. This is one soup that tastes best served warm rather than piping hot

(Lynne Foster lives in Hatteras village with her husband, Ernie. Together they operate The Albatross Fleet of charter boats. They actively support the sustainable practices of the island’s commercial fishermen and the preservation of Hatteras Island’s working waterfront.  Both love to cook seafood and entertain friends, and Lynne loves to experiment with recipes for locally caught seafood.)

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