Basics of Cooking Legumes
I cannot seem to cool things like black eyed peas, lentils, crowder peas, etc on the stove without the flavor coming off really bland and underseasoned or completely overdone.
What is a fool-proof, basic way to cook stuff like this? Spices to add to the pot, etc?
I cooked my black eyed peas yesterday with some chopped kielbasa, onion, celery, green pepper, an assortment of spices I'm not sure I can duplicate (garlic powder, thyme, oregano, cumin?), and hit it with DH's homemade habanero sauce. (I think it was flavorful before the habanero sauce, but who can tell? ;-)
A pork product always helps, IMHO -- ham bone, fat back, etc.
My three recent pots of lentils were: sauteed onions (almost caramalized) then stock with cubed potato and tomato, and dried African game meat (mainly kudu). Seasoned with pepper because of some salt in the stock and salt in the game meat. Pureed and added yogurt. Perfect.
Definitely a little pig always improves matters. But there is a reason canned beans are so high in sodium -- beans (legumes) need a lot of salt. When I'm making them, I usually have some sort of cured meat (salt) and I cook the beans with some sort of stock (salt).
My basic soup recipe includes carrot, onion, celery, split peas/lentils, smoked turkey leg/ham bone/ham hocks, thyme, bay, cayenne, salt, pepper, all cooked in chicken stock. Other good additions are dried chipotles, curry powder, garam masala, and Tony Chachere original.
Harold McGee makes an eloquent case for presoaking legumes in his article on heat in the NY Times today. Oddly enough, though I hadn't soaked blackeyes in the past I did so this year, and then cooked them very slowly with onion, 3 pods of dried red pepper and a big chunk of locally cured and smoked bacon. I did not salt them until they became tender, and then put them in the fridge overnight, meat and all, and finished the cooking on Monday for a party that night. Had enough leftover to serve to five people (with rice, of course!) as the opener for last night's dinner, plus a nice lunch for me just a while ago. Extremely rich in both flavor and mouth-feel. Maybe the best part was that I cut up the bacon and discarded most of its fat, and used one of those fat-blotting sheets to remove it from the liquid before pouring it back over the peas, so we got the richness without so much actual grease.
Onions, garlic, cumin, parsley/cilantro, bay leaf, cinnamon stick, whole cloves, tomato paste, smoked paprika or chili flakes or a chipotle pepper - all add a lot of flavor. I try to cook many legumes in the pressure cooker to be energy efficient about it and any of the spices above can really add flavor during this. I add cilantro (whole sprigs are fine, I pick them out later anyway), bay leaf and a smashed garlic clove routinely.