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It’s been at or below about 10 degrees for the past two days.  My tonsils are getting really swollen at night, making it hard to sleep.  I truly don’t want to go on antibiotics with this little baby inside me, but if my history with swollen tonsils repeats itself I might have to.  Also, have I mentioned that my uterus is the size of a soccer ball?  Well, it is, according to some pregnancy website.

But back to the beans.  Glorious, wonderful beans.  So most weeks that go by I don’t buy any meat.  Once a month or once every two months, I buy a good quality chicken to roast and make stock out of.  Sometimes I’ll buy a little bacon or liverwurst or chorizo or something at The Piggery, the, family farm-owned deli/butcher close to our house that sells local, organic beef, pork, and poultry.  I am so thankful to have a place like this  to buy meat from, even if we don’t buy it that often.

So it felt like a grand occasion when I bought 2 smallish smoked ham hocks last week.  Ham hocks are nice, fatty pieces of meat from the pig’s ankle, and they’re often sold smoked.  You can throw them into pots of lentils or split pea soup or chili or anything like that.  I finally got around to cooking them up in a nice, big pot of black beans.

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n.b.– If I couldn’t find a trusted, local source for ham hocks, I wouldn’t buy them.  If any of you haven’t read Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer yet, please read a copy of it soon.  It’s worth just eating plain beans if your only other alternative is pieces of ham from pigs raised in the industrial farming system.

Beans with Ham Hocks

2-3 c.* dry black beans (or whatever kind of bean you’d like to use)

1 or 2 smoked ham hocks, only if you can find them from a good, local farm (I’m not kidding)

2 t. salt (or to taste– salt is absolutely necessary to bring out the flavor in beans)

good drizzle of olive oil, optional

1-2 limes, optional

* This is about the amount I made for John and me, and it lasted for 2-3 meals for each of us.  If you’re making this for 5 or 6 people, just use more beans (and not necessarily more ham).

1.  Rinse the beans and pick out any that are discolored, shriveled, or any little rocks, etc.  Place in a bowl and cover generously with water and let soak 8 hours or overnight. (If you’re pressed for time, you can put the beans in a large pot, cover with water, boil, and let soak in the hot water for 1 hour– that’s how I made the beans today and they turned out just fine).

2.  Drain the soaking water, place the beans in a large pot, and cover with fresh water.  You want the water to cover the beans by about an inch.  Add the ham hock(s).  Bring to a boil.  Skim any foam that rises to the surface, and reduce the heat to a simmer.

3.  After about 30 minutes, or once the beans are somewhat soft, add your salt and a long drizzle of olive oil.  Keep checking the beans every 20 minutes or so to stir and to see if you need to add water.  They are done when the beans melt in your mouth and have no trace of hardness left.  If the beans taste bland, add salt little by little until the flavor really shines through.

4.  Once the beans are done, remove the ham hocks and let them cool off a little.  Cut off and discard the fatty outer layer.  Over the pot, shred the meaty inner layer back into the beans.  Save the bones for making soup, if you want. I also added some generous squeezes of lime juice after the beans were done cooking.

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Keep the beans in their cooking liquid if you’re going to store them.  These will last a few days in the fridge, and will only get better as they soak in their juices.

Serve with warm corn tortillas and slices of avocado and some good hot sauce.  Or mash them into refried beans.  Or use them as a base for some amazing chili or soup.  Or eat them plain out of a bowl.  Or put them between two tortillas and a bunch of grated cheddar and make quesadillas….

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