Orca Beans, Featuring a Birthday & a Brewery

We’ve lived in Oregon for nearly two weeks now — two of the least lazy weeks of my life. The closest I’ve come to doing nothing was last Sunday, when I cooked up the previously mentioned orca beans (I also unpacked, cleaned, photographed Sylvia and went for a walk). The experiment resulted in a hearty soup, one that is vegan, gluten-free and could have infinite variations. We ate it with beer from Deschutes Brewery, which is my all-time favorite. You can get many beers from Oregon in New York, but not this one, made in my hometown of Bend. We had the Inversion IPA, and it was everything a microbrew should be: flavorful, unique and just filling enough that you don’t want to drink more than two at one sitting. At the time, I felt a ridiculous sense of well-being at being able to once again drink my favorite beer whenever I want.

Not that I am a lush, it’s just one of the many small things that make me so happy that we’ve moved.

A more significant thing that makes me happy is being able to see my family without it being a huge, cross-country production. On Wednesday (two days ago), we drove down to Bend to celebrate my brother’s thirtieth birthday. (You may remember my brother from this.) Like many people in Oregon, and most people with disabilities, my brother is underemployed. Fortunately, the job he does have is at one of the best local companies I know of. And they just happen to brew my favorite beer in the universe.

Yes, my brother works for Deschutes Brewery. And he may work there only one day a week, but wow, do they ever love him. Because when he went into work yesterday, they showered him with birthday love, including a gift certificate to his favorite music store (super thoughtful) as well as many other nice presents. I wish my brother worked more — so does he — but I wish that a whole lot more of us could work for companies that treated their employees so well.

I drank Deschutes beer long before my brother worked there, and I would drink it even if he didn’t. But you can be damn sure that I will drink it even more as a way of saying thank you for being so awesome.

On to the recipe

We still haven’t acquired a normal amount of ingredients in our kitchen, so I just used what we had. This ended up being a great strategy, and I think it would have been successful with an entirely different selection of veggies — celery, carrots, beets, parsnips, a potato, parsley. I don’t have it in me to be one of those cooks who diligently simmers and cans vegetable stock for future soup. I just make sure that I include enough flavor in every pot, which saves time and, I think, makes for more interesting bites.

We had a third of a container of cherry tomatoes in the fridge.

I rehydrated my orca beans over Saturday night and slow cooked them all day Sunday with a bunch of leftover chunks of produce in the refrigerator. Some people have told me that they can’t imagine planning far enough ahead to rehydrate beans. That’s fine; canned ones work just as well (though you won’t find orca beans in cans).

I made mine in a slow cooker, but you can use a heavy pot. Either way, cook for as long as possible at a temperature that’s just high enough for a gentle simmer. If you want a thicker, heartier dish, use less water or add rice about an hour before dinner.

If you don’t use tomatoes in yours, add a few tablespoons of vinegar or lemon juice to liven things up.

Harvest Odds-and-Ends Soup with Orca Beans

I used

  • One pound of dried orca beans, soaked overnight
  • Two medium onions, chopped
  • One-half bulb of really strong local garlic (I would have used a whole bulb of the regular kind)
  • Four white mushrooms, finely diced (for flavor)
  • A third of a container of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • Three serrano peppers, sliced into thin cross sections (taste them to see how spicy they are and adjust accordingly)
  • Several tablespoons of rosemary, finely chopped
  • Two big red chard leaves, torn into ribbons (kale would have been just as good in a different kind of way, as would have parsley or even cilantro)
  • One-fourth of a cup of olive oil
  • Lots of sea salt and pepper

Here’s what I did

I set my slowcooker to high and poured in the olive oil. While it was heating, I chopped the onions and garlic and added them. When they began to brown (after about an hour), I added the peppers, rosemary and a tablespoon each of salt and pepper.

Half an hour later, I added the rest of the veggies, except for the kale. When the tomatoes began to look droopy, I added the beans and enough water to cover everything by about two and a half inches. If you want a thicker, more jambalaya-like consistency, cover with one inch of water. I let everything simmer for about six hours and added the ribbons of chard toward the very end. I stirred occasionally, and about four hours in, I tasted and added more salt and pepper.

It takes a long time to cook, but requires minimal effort. It was a good use of odd remnants of veggies that may have otherwise gone into the compost (since we do that now). Best of all it was really tasty and remained so for several days afterward. Of course, the fact that it is vegan and gluten-free means that just about everybody can partake, which for me is  the whole point of cooking.


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