This simple bean dish is a big fat phony. It lies right to your face with its homeliness. It threatens to turn you away with a suggestion of boredom, as if it was just another bowl of beans. Its simplicity lures you into making it anyway, though, and that’s where the magic begins. The magic of bacon and onions, that is.
Yes, this is a simple bean dish, something that uses up the rest of a pot of beans you may have cooked up for something else (you can use canned beans, too), and the last few onions, and that leftover chicken broth still in the refrigerator. It’s warm and comforting on chilly nights. It lends itself to endless substitutions, tweaks, and flavor enhancements. All of those things are great characteristics of a go-to weeknight or lazy weekend recipe. But what really sold me on it was the bacon and caramelized onions. They’re magic.
This recipe is from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider, so, as the book’s title may suggest, it comes complete with carte blanche for the cook and you really could do whatever the heck you want with it. I’ve made this many times, and probably made some kind of improvisation each time I made it. Recently, I used pinto beans, which is what I happened to have cooked and ready, but I think you could use just about any kind of bean. I used some of my homemade red wine vinegar instead of the balsamic in the printed recipe. I also elected to keep the bacon out of the stewing process because I like it to remain crisp, and sprinkled it on top of my bowl of beans at the end.
I wrote up the recipe below to reflect the way I put it together this month, but who knows what I’ll do with it another time. You certainly can take it and do what you want with it as well. Just don’t underestimate it. It might just seem like a pan of beans, but there’s nothing quite like the aroma of onions frying in bacon fat to make you believe in magic.
Stewed Beans with Bacon and Caramelized Onions
Adapted from The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider
4 ounces thick-sliced bacon, chopped
1 pound yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
½ teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
2 medium-size garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 cups cooked pinto beans (drain and rinse the beans if using canned)
2 dried bay leaves
1 ½ cups reduced or low sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Place the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook until the bacon is crisp. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on a paper towel. Pour off all but about 1 tablespoon of the bacon drippings.
2. Return the pan to the heat and add the onions and salt. Stir the onions in the pan until all are coated with the bacon fat. Cover and cook over medium heat about 5 minutes or until they appear juicy in the pan. Uncover and continue to cook until the onions are very tender and golden brown, stirring occasionally. This should take about 20-25 minutes.
3. Remove about half of the onions and set aside. Add the beans, garlic, bay leaves, chicken broth, vinegar and sugar to the onions in the pan. Stir well, scraping any browned bits that are on the pan. Bring to a low boil and cook until the liquid is thick and the mixture has the consistency of a stew, about 20 minutes.
4. Remove the bay leaves and add the pepper to taste. Taste for seasoning (especially salt) and adjust as needed. Spoon into bowls and top with the reserved bacon and onions to serve.
Makes about 4 servings.
Other recipes like this one: Soup Beans; White Bean Stew with Tomatoes and Rosemary; White Bean Soup with Bacon, Squash, and Kale; White Beans with Sage and Garlic
One year ago: Yogurt Tortillas with Whole Wheat Flour
Two years ago: Black Bean and Corn Croquettes with Cilantro Cream Dipping Sauce