We have a chicken making a weird, wheezy snorking noise today, and while I am not broadcasting an open plea for advice, I will share a little wisdom: if you happen to suspect that a chicken of your acquaintance may have an impacted crop, do NOT do any internet research while eating lunch at your desk.  Just take me at my word on that.

I was going to write you a nice little story about the beans in my lunch, but barnyarding and other Monday managerial tasks have absorbed all the time I had for that.  So no story.  Just beans.

That is what these are--just beans.  I've said before (more than once, in fact) that in my opinion, a person who starts the week with a giant pot of beans in the fridge strides boldly forward with a spring in their step.  Beans are my pals for many reasons: they can be bought without packaging, can be made ahead in quantity, improve on standing, are nutritionally dense, easy on the wallet, will usefully marry a myriad of flavors, can be employed in numerous ways and are very appealing to my children.

And there, I just said it again.

These beans are known, in my head, as "Dominican Beans," but when I tried to reconnect to the recipe that made me call them that in the first place, it was gone, and any other recipe I have found for Dominican beans is totally different.  They employ one stupendous trick--slow cooking in the oven in a covered pot-- that has the power to influence all your future bean projects.  But beyond that, they are unassuming, slipping happily into burritos, on to nachos, into baked dinners, mashing up nicely into refritos, sliding into a bowl with cheese on top and tortillas for dipping, etc. I make more than I might need for the week, and then I freeze one-cup portions of them for my future lunchbox- or snack-panicked self, and am always glad I did.

If you don't have a stove-worthy casserole dish, you can do the initial boil of the beans in a  pot and transfer them to a covered baking dish. The kombu helps to make the beans especially tender and digestible, but is entirely optional.

basic beans

2 cups dried pinto beans, picked over and soaked either overnight or by the quick soak method
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled & whole
2 t ground cumin
1T mild pure chile powder (ancho is nice; beware of "chili powder," which often contains salt and other spices, and thanks to the salt will toughen your beans)
optionally, a strip of dried kombu seaweed 

1/2 c finely chopped cilantro
1/2 c tomato puree, or 2T tomato paste 
 salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350.  Drain the beans, and place them in a heavy casserole.  Add the cumin and chile, the cloves of garlic, the kombu if you are using it, and enough fresh water to cover by an inch.  Bring this mixture to a boil over medium to high heat, then turn off the heat, cover, and place the pot in the oven. Turn the oven down to 275, and go on about your day.  If you are bored or concerned, check the beans in an hour and see if they need a stir or some additional water.  They probably don't.  Check them again in another hour or so.  Are they almost tender?  You want to keep them in there until they are totally tender, and undercooking is more of a cause for concern than overcooking is.  I generally forget they are in the oven until I suddenly have to dash out somewhere, and then I just leave them in the switched-off oven until I get home.  Cooking time will vary based on the age of the beans, which is unknowable.  Life lessons abound in the kitchen.  

If you are using the kombu, you can remove it after an hour or so, while it is still intact, or just let it dissolve into the beans. 

Anyway, once the beans are tender, remove them from the oven and stir in the remaining ingredients.  These are tasty right away, but they vastly improve the next day and so forth.