Way better than canned, this slow cooker pork and bean stew is pure comfort food that is satisfying, nutritious, and low sodium! Pork and beans became a southern staple because, not only is it hearty, satisfying, and nutritious after a hard day’s work, but economical as well – a pot of beans could feed a brood of young ‘uns for mere cents back in the day and a warm bowl of ham and beans, even today, are budget-friendly and perfect for the healthier you this year.
Good Eatin’ and Good For You: Beans and Other Legumes
As part of the legume family of food, beans offer plenty of heart-healthy folate and fiber and can be a filling substitute for meat. One of my goals this year is to include more legumes in my diet and seek out heirloom bean varieties like some of those collected by Master Gardener John Coykendall that I read about in The Blackberry Farm Cookbook. But rest assured, it won’t be just the year of the bean because the legume family of foods is a diverse one that includes peas, alfalfa, clover, and sprouts, as well as tiny lentils, and the inappropriately named peanut.
In fact, I ushered in the new year with the southern tradition of having blackeyed peas (another legume) for good luck on New Year’s Day; my humble Hoppin’ John salsa kicked off a lovely alfresco brunch with friends complete with champagne toasts and Manna Hatta bourbon punch beneath magnificent trees overlooking a picturesque canyon vista – a truly auspicious beginning to 2013.
As a kid, blackeyed peas always seemed kind of bland and boring, but I’ve jazzed them up over the years with chile peppers, corn, cilantro, and lime or Meyer lemon for a crunchy flavorful Hoppin’John salsa with tortilla and flaxseed chips that both kids and grown-ups love. Plus, spread the salsa on top of chips with a little cheese and bake for some great tasting nachos. Try it some time – no need to reserve it for New Years – it’s a perfect football snack for the approaching playoffs and Super Bowl or a healthy dip/salsa any time of year.
Slow Cooker Pork and Bean Stew Recipe
A nod to the ham and beans with cornbread that I grew up with in the South: offering warm, satisfying comfort on a wintry day, this stew wins double bonus points for being economical and nutritious.
- 1 pound bone-in pork shank or ham hock
- 1-1/2 cup dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1 celery stalk, chopped
- 3 medium carrots, chopped
- 1/2 sweet or yellow onion, chopped
- 3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 quart vegetable stock, homemade or store-bought low sodium
- 1 15-ounce can No Salt diced tomatoes
- 1 tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon Mrs. Dash's Chipotle seasoning
- 1 teaspoons Mrs. Dash's Table Blend seasoning
- Freshly ground pepper
- Couple shakes of your favorite hot sauce
- 1 cup chopped kale (leaves only - center rib removed)
Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté carrots for 2 minutes, add celery and onions and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook for another minute.
Combine soaked, drained cranberry beans with vegetables and vegetable stock in the slow cooker. Add the tomatoes. Stir in the tomato paste and seasonings. Add the ham hock or, if using pork shank, slice the thick fat layer and cut it off in two big pieces - this allows the heat to get to the meat quicker and cook it to tenderness; stir into the stew (it adds flavor, will not dissolve into fat, and is removed prior to serving) along with the meaty bone to the mixture. Cook on high heat for 6-8 hours.
Stir the mixture occasionally, if you're at home and able to do this. When you get home or an hour or so before serving, lower the heat to Low and add the kale. Alternatively, the kale can be added in the beginning - I like to add it at the end so it retains it's bright green color. Before serving, remove the pieces of pork rind.
To prepare a low sodium version, as I did, using an uncured pork shank instead of a ham hock, plan a day or two ahead to allow the dry rub to "cure" the pork.
I purchased the pork shank and several other cuts of local, sustainably raised pork from Da-Le Ranch. If you use ham hocks, you can skip this step.
For the pork: score (make diagonal cuts) in the fat layer with a knife so the spices can soak into the meat. Combine 1 tablespoon of smoked paprika with 1 tablespoon of Bourbon Barrel Foods Bourbon brown sugar and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Smear the mixture onto the pork, place in a large ziplock bag and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days. Cut the thick fat layer off and brown the rind and the pork shank in a frying pan with a teaspoon of olive oil before adding it to the slow cooker. The hard pork rind does not render into fat, but adds a lot of flavor to the stew and is removed before serving. Use the same pan to sauté the vegetables before adding to the slow cooker.
Da-Le Ranch is a small, sustainable family farm in the Central Inland Empire (Southern California) specializing in sustainable, FARM-FRESH pork, chicken, grass fed lamb, grass fed beef, rabbit, duck, quail, pheasant & turkey, You can buy meat by the individual cut, or full, half and quarter sides available (on some animals) for the freezer. The exceptional quality meats are derived from animals that are pastured, hormone free, steroid free, and U.S.D.A. inspected, where required. Dave (the “Da” of Da-Le Ranch) sells almost exclusively at farmers markets. Visit their website for their farmers market schedule. When time permits, Dave and Leslie (yep, the “Le” in Da-Le Ranch) give tours of their 22-acre ranch because they love sharing their vision and introducing people to their farm. Two friends and I took a Saturday morning to visit Da-Le Ranch – it was super interesting and informative and I’ll share more with you in another post. In the meantime,
I wish you and your family a year filled with joy, opportunity and,
most importantly, good health!
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