A new weekly series on what to do with your farmers' market impulse buys and CSA box surprises.
Cranberry beans are part of Phaseolus vulgaris family of shelling beans. The cranberry beans we typically see here are of the Cargamanto or Crimson varieties. Cargamanto beans are cream colored with dark red markings. Crimson cranberry beans are lighter in color with brighter markings. Both varieties turn a solid tan color when cooked, similar to a pinto bean, but with creamier texture a slightly nuttier flavor.
How do I buy them? Look for full pods. Fresh cranberry beans are available in the Bay Area from the end of summer into the fall. Dried cranberry beans are available year round. Dried cranberry beans must be soaked overnight before using and require twice the cooking time.
How do I cook them? To prepare fresh cranberry beans, remove them from their pods (and discard). The yield will be approximately 50% (1lb of pods will produce about 1/2lb of beans). Place the beans in a pot of boiling salted water or stock for 25 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat and drain. For a simple vegetarian meal: toss the cooked beans with hot pasta, olive oil, artichoke hearts, spinach, chopped parsley and season with salt and pepper.