Cooking with Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans

Seemingly endless loops of snowy commutes, bitter cold temperatures, and all around winter blahs call for real comfort food.  And I'm not talking about the quick and easy kind; I'm talking about the homegrown, slow-cooked, hearty goodness that is cooking up a pot of dried beans and transforming them into an amazing soup or a spicy Mexican dinner.  Bam. Snowy commute: forgotten.

Yes, it's times like these that make me incredibly happy that I planted Cherokee Trail of Tears Beans last summer.
These beans could not have been easier to grow: I popped them into the ground as a part of my Three Sisters Planting and let them grow and do their thing all season long without any fuss.  Along the way, I enjoyed lovely lavender blossoms, cute little green beans that plumped up and then turned pinkish purple as they ripened, and when the bean pods had turned dark purple and brittle, I was left with a couple pints of smooth and shiny black beans (not quite enough beans for as many winter meals as I had hoped for, but I did get enough to ration out a good number of recipes).

It was a no-brainer to set aside enough beans to double the planting for this year's repeat appearance (and that was before I had even started cooking with them!).
So let's get to it and talk cooking with Cherokee Trail of Tears beans.

These are beans that need a good soaking (I should have guessed it, based on the recommendation to soak the beans before planting) and a lot of cooking time.  Give them 10 or 12 hours to soak, and then make sure there is a good three inches of water covering the beans when you start to cook them.  I find that it takes about 2 hours of simmering to get beautiful, soft and tender black beans, but trust me: it is sooo worth the wait!
The beans plump up quite nicely when cooked and have a great texture.  They taste way better than any canned or commercial dried beans I've ever cooked with, and Cherokee Trail of Tears beans have substituted perfectly for a number of my favorite black bean recipes: black bean quesadillas, spicy black bean burgers, and a mini batch of Cuban black bean soup.  But by far, my favorite way of using these beans has been to pop them into the food processor with a little bit of the cooking liquid before adding them to a hot pan of super finely minced onion, garlic, jalapeno, ground cumin, ground cayenne pepper, and chili powder for some killer refried beans.  Bam.  Comfort food at its best: homegrown, slow-cooked, hearty, and most importantly, delicious.

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