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Depression Stew

Oh, the glory of the humble bean. These rosy, Jacob's Cattle heirloom beans are from the last delivery of my CSA a few months ago. They came encased in papery, yellow shells which crumbled in my fingers as I tried to strip the dried beans from them. The beans were deep red with white flecks, and tiny. I covered them with water and let them soak for two days. I don't think that's the usual soaking length, but I, um, just forgot about them. Because I had other things to do! Like sleep late and eat banana-blueberry pancakes in SoHo, and be oddly moved by a giant gorilla - it was New Year's Day, after all.

But on Monday, when Ben and I were spending the day reading and lazing about, we needed something simple to sustain us. The first thing that occurred to me was my father's Depression Stew. Possibly named so because in its most basic form, Depression Stew is made up of just the humblest ingredients: an onion, a carrot, a box of frozen lima beans, and a can of diced tomatoes. In other words, ingredients that can be found even when money is tight. But it's also an elementally warming meal that can make the bluest day a little bit better. So, depression in that sense, too. Whatever the semantics, it's a wonderful thing to have in your arsenal. If all goes well, the name should remain a mostly ironic moniker...

And it's endlessly useful. As long as you keep the basic onion-carrot-tomato formula, you can add to and vary the stew as you'd like. Dump in frozen baby lima beans, or a can of pinto beans, or (if you live in France) those mini cans of flageolets that single-handedly kept me alive in Paris. Add dried oregano, or perhaps thyme, though I'm currently obsessed with sage, gathered fresh from my CSA, dried slowly in my kitchen. And isn't there a sage-bean connection? Cook until the mixture is stewy, and serve with crusty bread. You could add a handful of Arborio rice at some point (with some water, then, too). And, if you like, grate Parmigiano on top. Yesterday, our version included my CSA beans and two large leaves of Swiss chard, sliced finely.

The base recipe: Saute a chopped onion in a bit of olive oil until translucent, then add a sliced carrot (amounts are to be changed as needed). When these have cooked together for another minute, add a can of diced tomatoes, and herbs. When the flavors have melded nicely and the stew has reduced a bit, about 15-20 minutes, add a box of frozen baby lima beans. Cook, covered, until heated through, and serve. Vary as you'd like, and enjoy.

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