Fresh shelling beans are popping up at all of the Santa Monica Farmers’ Markets. Shelling beans are the early stage of what will become dried beans. The pods tend to look dry and wrinkled, but the beans inside are still young and tender and perfect for eating. Fresh shelling beans also cook much faster than dried beans and do need to be soaked prior to cooking. To cook shelling beans, first shell them from the pod, then place them in a pot and cover them with a couple of inches of water. Simmer them for about 45 minutes or until tender. Check the beans as they cook to make sure the water does not boil off. Add water, if necessary, so the beans are always covered.
After they are tender the beans are then ready to add to soups or other recipes. If you want to eat the beans on their own, they do make a tasty side dish. To liven them up, you can add garlic, onion, salt, pepper, sprigs of fresh herbs, bay leaves, celery, and even potatoes or tomatoes to the cooking water. You can also cook the beans in chicken stock rather than water for extra flavor. If there is a lot of liquid left once the beans have finished cooking, you can drain them before eating.
There are many varieties of shelling beans you might come across at the Farmers’ Markets these days. Cranberry beans have an off-white pod with cranberry color markings, just like the beans inside. They come in both large and small varieties and the large plants grow ten feet tall. They are a creamy bean and excellent in soups, particularly minestrone. I used cranberry beans to make pasta e fagioli soup, and it was delicious! White Cap beans are pole beans that look like a cranberry bean on one side, but are solid white on the other. When planted next to cranberry beans they cross-pollinate and turn red (the flavor stays the same), so they need to grow separately from cranberry beans.
Cannelini beans are a quick producing bush beans. They are yellow and white in color and extremely creamy. They are versatile beans, but also very good in soups. Mauve Runner beans are tall pole beans with beautiful red flowering plants. They have a dull colored pod, but a bright and beautiful surprise inside – the beans themselves are a vivid pink and purple, but do turn brown when cooked. Persian beans are smaller and richer than cranberry beans. They are very creamy and have scarlet markings. Also be on the lookout for flageolet beans and black-eyed peas in the coming weeks. Many farmers, including Two Peas in a Pod, McGrath Family Farm, Jerry Rutiz, and Weiser Farms grow shelling beans.