THE COMMON BEAN, THE OMNIPRESENT GRAIN
When I travel in Latin America I always visit public markets to see what people eat in a particular region, I usually judge the region's prosperity by the variety of beans offered, the greater the variety the more prosperity there is. In the city of Barquisimeto, Venezuela, I visited a wholesale market where there were 17 different types of beans offered, people there seem to eat beans in every meal and prepared in every way imaginable.
The common bean, Phaseolus vulgaris, is an herbaceous annual plant domesticated independently in ancient Mesoamerica and the Andes, and now grown worldwide for its edible bean, popular both dry and as a green bean. Beans, squash and maize constituted the "Three Sisters" that provided the foundation of Native American agriculture. Beans are a legume and thus acquire their nitrogen through an association with rhizobia a species of nitrogen-fixing bacteria, so planting beans at the base of plants or trees provides fertilizer. If you want to learn about growing beans follow this link: Growing Beans
Even though beans are considered a poor man's food, many people who are not so poor love them, Latin American politicians in particular seem to be very fond of them, when they are campaigning for votes you always see them eating some local recipe of beans and saying how good they are, their counterparts in the north of the continent seem to have similar taste, I heard the US senate's restaurant offers a famous bean soup.
I myself am a fan of beans prepared in any way. Growing up there were always beans in my diet; when I went to college in Massachusetts, USA, I loved the Yankee Dinner of Frank & Beans offered on Saturdays at local diners and homes. My wife makes some black beans that are delicious.
There is an enormous variety of beans but the most popular are: Black Beans, very popular around the Caribbean, especially in Cuban dishes; Navy beans, the best bean for baking although they can be used for Chili stews and other dishes; Pink beans, the best beans for making beef Chili; Red beans, they are the best to combine with rice but can be used in Chili and for refried beans paste; Pinto beans come in many colors, they are the best for soups and salad applications. For a more detailed look at bean variety follow the link: Varieties of Beans
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Phaseolus vulgaris
ENGLISH NAME: Beans
LOCAL NAMES: Frijol (spanish), Frejol (Peru, Ecuador), Porotos (Panama, Argentina), Caraotas (Venezuela), Feijão (Brasil), Habichuelas (Caribbean)
PRODUCTS: Canned beans
PROCESSING: Before cooking beans they must be soaked in water, making sure the water covers them. If the beans are to be cooked in a regular pot they should be soaked overnight, if a pressure cooker is to be used then you only need some 2 hours of soaking. When cooking flavoring agents such as pork maybe added but herbs, spices and salt should be added after the beans are cooked and tender.
STORING: Dry beans can be stored forever in a paper bag in a cool dry place, to avoid bugs place some hot chilies or black peppercorns among the beans.