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These braised white beans are the most flavorful white beans you’ll ever taste. Spices penetrate the beans while they cook in a liquid infused with charred spinach. Inspired by the traditional Tunisian dish pkaila, this braise starts with frying dry spinach leaves in oil until they’re nearly blackened. Not only does cooking down spinach make it delicious by concentrating its essential green flavor, it also shortens the beans’ cooking time. Honestly, I don’t understand the chemistry behind why that happens; I just know it works. The combination takes to a range of seasonings, and the cooked beans can be used in count- less ways, from casseroles to spreads. Bay leaves reinforce the taste of green spinach leaves, while cumin and fennel lend their aromas to the mix. You can eat these beans straight, over rice or couscous, or scooped onto flatbreads.
Lior Lev Sercarz, from "Mastering Spice" by Lior Lev Sercarz
1 pound dried cannellini beans
1 (5-ounce) package fresh baby spinach (make sure the spinach is not wet)
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced Kosher salt
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Finely grind the bay leaves, fennel seeds, and cumin seeds together and immediately mix with the cayenne.
Place the beans in a large container, add enough cold water to cover by 2 inches, and cover tightly. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours and up to 16 hours. Drain well, rinse, and drain again.
Heat a very large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom (4 to 5 tablespoons) and heat until very hot, shimmering, and almost smoking, about 2 minutes. Add the spinach and quickly spread it in an even layer. You want a really nice char on the spinach. Sear, using a wooden spoon to stir and smush the spinach and scraping the pot as needed. Keep cooking and adding more olive oil (up to 4 tablespoons more) if the spinach threatens to burn. The spinach is done when it’s a bunch of crisp green bits and the olive oil turns dark green, which should take about 10 minutes.
Add the onion, stir well, and season generously with salt and half the spice blend. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the vinegar and stir well. Add the drained beans and the remaining spice blend. Stir well and add enough water to cover (3 to 4 cups).
Raise the heat to high, cover, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until the beans are tender, 40 to 60 minutes. Remove from the heat and season to taste with salt. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.
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