I was originally going to call this recipe what it actually is, which is braised cranberry beans and kale. I don’t cook cranberry beans as often as some others, but I do love their creamy texture, and I tend to get them during the holidays because their mottled, white and red exterior (which becomes pink as they cook) always strikes me as being appropriately festive.
As I was making the recipe, though, I realized that one of its upsides is that it can be made with pretty much any bean you’ve got: navy beans, cannellini or great northern beans, black beans, chickpeas, pinto or kidney. This is truly more of a cooking template than a recipe, but I like it so much—and am so sure I’ll be making it regularly from now on—that I couldn’t help but share it.
My normal process for batch cooking beans is to soak them overnight, then boil them till tender. I like this because it allows me to use the beans any which way: I haven’t really seasoned them, so they’re a flexible addition to any recipe.
There’s a lot to be said, though, for cooking them this way, with lots of onion and garlic and salt: the beans take on more flavor, and they end up having a stewed consistency that’s really lovely. Braised beans aren’t as blank a canvas as plainly boiled ones, but they’re still flexible: you can mix them with a grain, serve them over toast, or use them as a side dish at dinner.
The other part of this recipe is the kale, which gets cooked down until it’s practically melting. Normally when I add kale to meals, like soup, I give it about 10 minutes of simmering, which is nice because the greens hang on to some of their texture. But there’s an upside to long-cooking kale, too: not only does it become wonderfully soft, but it also becomes incredibly sweet. It’s a good trick for anyone who finds the bitterness of kale (or other leafy greens) to be off-putting.
I snapped a photo of the meal as it was cooking, and I had to smile because it was so unapologetically earthy and soupy and not particularly photogenic:
Once the pot is ready, though, you’ll have something wonderfully fragrant, nutritious, and nourishing on your hands. Normally I’d freeze something that yields so much right away, but I loved the beans and greens so much that I spent the better part of a week eating them (sharing a few portions along the way). My favorite meal was to serve them with millet, which is what’s pictured in the photos, but I also enjoyed them with:
And I’ve got another batch in my weekend cooking plan already, leftovers of which will join me at my mom’s on Sunday and Monday for simple lunches. Here’s the recipe.
Great Big Pot of Braised Beans & Kale
- 1 lb cranberry beans or another bean of choice, such as navy, cannellini, pinto, or kidney
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 white or yellow onions chopped (or 1 very large onion)
- 6 cloves garlic very thinly sliced
- 7-8 cups water
- 2 bay leaves
- 1-2 teaspoons salt*
- 1 large or 2 small bunches curly or lacinato kale about 1 lb, thick stems removed and chopped (or another type of leafy green, such as collards or chard)
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Red wine vinegar to taste
- Soak the beans overnight, or for 8-10 hours. Drain and rinse them.
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a large soup or stock pot. When the oil is shimmering, add the onions. Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the onions are tender and clear. Add the garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring constantly.
- Add the beans, 7 cups water, and bay leaves to the pot. Bring the beans to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
- Remove the bay leaves. Add the salt and kale to the pot (you may need to add the kale gradually, stirring as you go, in order to wilt it down and fit all of it). If the mixture you have is too thick, add an extra cup or more of water: you want the beans and kale to be less soupy than a soup, but still pretty soupy.
- Cover the pot again and continue to simmer the beans and kale for another 30 minutes, or until the kale is meltingly soft. Taste the beans and add salt as needed; then, add freshly ground black pepper and a splash or two of red wine vinegar to taste. Serve. (The mixture is even tastier as the leftovers sit.)
I’m as distracted as anyone right now with cookies and cakes and festive, show-stopping vegan entrees, and I’ll be making some of those this coming weekend. This past week, though, as I wrapped up my semester (!) and tried to tie up loose ends at work before the holiday, I couldn’t have asked for anything more grounding than this great, big nourishing pot of goodness. Hope you’ll find it as easy and tasty as I did.
And I’ll see you on Sunday.