Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hana-mame (Flower Beans)

When I saw these giant, blush-and-black-speckled dried beans on the shelf at my local produce stall, I was smitten immediately. The produce guy was hesitant to sell them to me - "Do you know how to cook them?" he asked. "You have to soak them first, for a day." I told him I knew, they had to soak first and then cook for a long time. He asked whether Americans eat a lot of beans, and I told him no, but I ate a lot when I was in Italy. That seemed to impress him, and soon I was headed home with the Jack-and-the-Beanstalk-worthy legumes in my shopping tote.

I love the smell of beans cooking. The smell of rice in the rice cooker always reminds me of mornings in Kyoto, when the whole street carried the nutty fragrance of countless breakfasts and lunchboxes being prepared, probably by tiny old ladies for tiny old men. But the smell of beans doesn't have any specific memories attached, it just has a wholesome, heartiness that makes me hungry. There's a hint of hot pepper, more than a hint of grass, and a savory essence more like meat than a vegetable - must be all those proteins, amino acids, or whatever else makes beans so nutritious.

These pink and black beauties are called hana-mame, which means "flower bean" in English. I don't know if they come from a particularly floral vine, or if the name is simply due to the unusually rosy coloring. They're huge, about the size of one joint of my index finger, and the Japanese cook them with sugar and eat them one or two at a time, like candy. I boiled mine and added salt, the way I always do. Unlike many pretty beans that become monochrome during cooking, their coloring darkened but remained distinctively speckled. Though they didn't taste like flowers, they were a bit reminiscent of potatoes, with thick, peppery skins and a flavorful, floury inside.

1 comment:

  1. Reading this entry made me REALLY want to bite into one of those beans! What an enticing description!