I came across these amazing beans at the Chinese produce shop around the corner from me the other day. You know how much I love a Chinese run grocery. The prices can't be beat!
Cranberry beans (also referred to as Borlotti beans)are shelling beans meaning the tough pods are inedible, but so pretty to look at! They are in season throughout the fall but we've all been having such a warm winter that I am still finding them in various stores. The beans are popular in Italian, French, and Mediterranean cuisine but they're mild flavor makes them extremely versatile. Use them in place of other varieties of white beans or build a dish around them. The thing I found remarkable about cranberry beans is that they are so widely available fresh. Have you ever had a fresh bean? I honestly hadn't until I tried these. They take less time to cook and their finish is much firmer and heartier than a dried or canned bean.
To prepare fresh cranberry beans, shell them by pressing along the spine of the firm pod. The pod will spring open easily revealing a row of large vibrant beans inside which should loosen and fall out with little effort.
The beans themselves should be firm and smooth with varied spotting and a slight green hue indicating rawness. To give you an idea of how many beans a package of pods will yield, I purchased about 2/3 of a pound which gave me approximately 3/4 of a cup of beans. You can also consider that each pod holds between 3 and 5 beans.
Discard the tough shells or, rinse them in a colander and add them to your stock bag.
Add beans to a large pot of salted water. You may add a bay leaf or some sprigs of sage for depth. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 30 or so minutes until beans are cooked through.
At this point you may drain them (don't rinse) and add them to your favorite recipe or simply saute them with a little garlic and oil before tossing them with a simple salad to showcase the mild nutty flavor.
Try a cranberry bean today!