Whenever Dad went grocery shopping with Mom, the bill would inevitably be higher as he’d always sneak three extra things into the cart: batteries, WD-40, and lupini beans. My brother and I loved these little yellow beans that were the same color as our Dodge Omni. (This was the early ’80s, when it wasn’t considered child abuse for a kid to ride in a compact car without his own entertainment system.)
Dad would rinse the briny beans in a bowl of water and my brother and I would expertly nibble the tip of the shell, then squeeze and and pop the salty beans in our mouth with increasing speed, unable to be full or satisfied. Dad would start to laugh as he’d recall his own father’s explanation about the addictive nature of lupini beans. It was a convoluted story that my grandfather told with great seriousness about Jesus—yes, Christ—running way from the Romans.
Jesus came upon a field of lupini beans and tried to hide. (At this point in the re-telling we were already cringing.) But the lupini bushes started making noise and drew attention to Jesus, who had to continue running and find a new place to hide. And for that reason, Jesus cursed the lupini bushes so that whoever eats them will never be able to satisfy their hunger. By the end of the story, we’d all be hysterically laughing at this ridiculous, even blasphemous tale, in total wonder as to where Grandpa had come up with it.
But in researching lupini beans for this post, my grandfather’s story has been vindicated! It’s a Southern Italian folkloric tale from the turn of the century, when people would comfort themselves with apocryphal tales of Mary, Jesus, and the saints as a way to contemplate and ease their own hunger and suffering. For poor children who had only lupini beans to eat, which would never suffer their hunger, their parents would tell a similar tale in which the Virgin Mary was escaping King Herod’s attack on baby boys and running through a field of lupini beans. Again, the lupini beans made noise and were cursed by God.
Most folks have probably never heard of them, but lupini beans can be easily found in most grocery stores, usually in the same aisle as the olives, canned artichokes, and jarred peppers. In Italy, they are sold at street fairs and festivals in long, plastic bags. In Spain, they are a common bar food.
Considering lupini beans have nearly as much protein as soybeans, they’re a damn good snack, especially since they are nearly as addictive as potato chips. They are also fun to eat. I’m partial to the nibble and pop technique, but experts claim to be able to rub the skin off with a couple of quick rubs between their fingertips.
A jar will only set you back two or three dollars, but I was curious to brine my own batch, especially because the jarred beans tend to be tiny, and I missed the big meaty lupinis I enjoyed in Italy.
Mike’s Deli on Arthur Avenue had them already brined, but another stall in the wonderful Arthur Avenue Retail Market had a bag of dried lupinis. Though the process isn’t difficult, it takes a full two weeks. Yes, those suckers will be occupying valuable real estate in my fridge for some time, requiring a daily rinse.
But I’m sure they will be worth it—especially when I can sit outside on a hot, sunny day with a bottle of beer or glass of wine, popping lupini beans like I’m at the feast of Saint Cono.
Brined Lupini Beans
Cook time: 1 hour
Makes 1 pound
- 1 pound dried lupini beans (easily found at Whole Foods)
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 2 sprigs parsley, coarsely chopped (optional)
- 2 garlic cloves (optional)
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (optional)
Soak beans overnight in a bowl of cool water. The next day, rinse the beans and then place in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to simmer for one hour. Rinse the beans once again and then place them in a gallon jar or large bowl with cold water.
For the next two weeks, rinse the beans every day and then replace the fresh water. This removes the bitter alkaloids. If the bitterness is not gone in two weeks, add a few more days’ worth of rinsing.
Once all bitterness is removed, make a brine by dissolving the kosher salt in a gallon of fresh water, and add parsley, garlic, and balsamic vinegar, if desired.
Store the lupinis refrigerated in the brine. Eat them plain or with a splash of extra virgin olive oil and fresh ground black pepper.