Beans, beans, the wonderful fruit. We all know the jokes about bean dishes, but if you cook them properly and eat them weekly, you’ll be enjoying these highly nutritious vegetarian staples in no time. It’s easy to buy canned beans, and I do not judge anyone for doing that! But I’m glad I tried my hand at soaking and cooking them from dried, the Zero Waste way. I’ve found that having a set day of the week to make beans helps me do that, and you can see some of my tips here and here.
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Bean Cuisines from Around the World
Most cultures around the world eat beans, whether it’s refried beans, smoky bean soups, hummus & falafel, or pasta e fagioli. Most of us have some bean dish that is our go-to thing, but exploring different cuisines is a great way to expand your bean repertoire and see what suits you best. Here are a few of my favorites:
Mexican & Latin American frijoles
When I lived in Mexico one summer, my host mother, whom we called abuela, served delicious refried beans with most meals. Her granddaughter would often eat just “frijol” on a plate for breakfast. I think it was here that I acquired a taste for beans with cheese & avocado with a sprinkle of hot sauce. I’ll sometimes have leftover beans this way for breakfast. Our downstairs vecina in Philly was a Mexican PhD student who taught me to re-heat beans by heating a little oil and onion in a saucepan and mixing the beans around in that until hot. Sometimes I mix some spinach or other greens into them too (or use the one half of the pan for beans, one for greens) and crack an egg onto part of the pan for breakfast.
(1) Improvised huevos rancheros with beans, with or without the huevos or salsa ranchera.
Secret Ingredients: oil, onion, Chalula hot sauce
(2) Burrito bowls are an easy way to enjoy creamy black beans or pinto beans with your favorite grain such as rice or quinoa. You can add shredded lettuce, chopped onion, avocado, green peppers, tomatoes, or any other veggies you’d like. Cheese and sour cream are delicious additions if you do dairy.
Secret Ingredients: lard/oil, onion, garlic & cumin in the beans; Chalula hot sauce; cilantro, lime.
(3) Mexican sopes are fresh, pillowy rounds of cooked “masa” corn meal topped with beans and the usual veggies. I have a recipe from a little cooking elective I took at Academia Falcon in Guanajuato. To be posted soon!
Middle Eastern foul and felafel
There used to be a fantastic food cart next to Penn’s Pottruck Gym called Ali Baba’s Magic Food. Yelpers report that Sami worked there for over 20 years serving his affordable and delicious felafel, shwarma, kebbe, salads, and more. Every day there was a special, and I’ll never forget my first taste of his bean special: Foul Mudammas. It was tangy and warm and absolutely delicious. I think there was some tabbouleh on the side, and some pita and salad, I’m sure. His food was always really satisfying but very garlicky, so chewing gum or brushing teeth before going to class was always a must!
(4) Ful Mudammas, made of fava beans. Tori Avey explains that this is an ancient dish referred to in the Bible. I recently found some canned Ful at an ethnic grocery store, so I’ll try making this soon and report back!
(5) Felafel and hummus, made from chickpeas, are of course a popular Middle Eastern dish. We have a lovely place called Cedars of Lebanon in the U-District in Seattle where I sometimes get this as a quick & delicious sandwich or platter. I’ve tried making felafel at home but have never been too successful, so I just eat this when I’m out and about.
I can’t remember exactly where or when I picked up my copy of Judith Barrett’s Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy. It struck me as a quirky title, and the fact that I picked it up shows that I’ve been on this quest to eat more beans for a while now. It is very informative – full of information about finding, preparing, and cooking with many different kinds of beans. She has bean dishes for every course of a traditional Italian meal except dessert. Most of the recipes do seem to have some meat in them, often prosciutto or other smoked delicacies that I don’t usually buy, but there are some vegetarian ones such including several bean spreads for crostini (pp.36-40), and soups of beans & greens (e.g. p. 118) . For those following a Mediterranean Diet, this is a great resource. And it’s just fun to read. This woman is seriously passionate about beans!
(6) Minestrone soup is a tomato-based pasta e fagioli recipe that is familiar to most Americans and is easy to make. Open up any cookbook that includes a soup section and you’ll probably find a recipe. Or check out Molly Katzen’s cute Soups recipe book with a built-in easel. Soups are really versatile, so don’t be afraid to leave out or substitute ingredients.
(7) Barrett’s pasta e fagioli all fiorentina calls for white cannellini or great northern beans to be cooked with 3 cloves of garlic, fresh rosemary and sage until tender. Sauteéd garlic, rosemary and sage plus a pinch of red pepper flakes are added for more flavor and then the ditali pasta is added. Next time I make this, I will document it with pictures and post.
Hungarian bab leves
The last time we visited my parents, we were given some lovely bean and vegetable soup as soon as we arrived. My 3-year-old wolfed it down, which was a pleasant surprise. You never know what they will eat when they’re genuinely hungry and the dish has been expertly cooked with love.
(8) Here is a fancy bean and ham soup recipe from Saveur and another version from Food.com.
(9) Lentil soup is much simpler and quicker. If you keep lentils in your pantry and tend to have carrots, celery and bay leaves on hand, you can make this any time. I remember one Christmas when we were so engrossed in planning Christmas Eve and the midday Christmas meal with extended family that we completely forgot to plan anything to eat for dinner that night. I put together an unplanned lentil soup in 30 minutes – no problem. Some kind of stock or bouillon helps (I use Better Than Bouillon), but it’s not totally necessary. The basic recipe is explained here in broad strokes.
American vegetarian summer salads
(10) Black Bean & Cucumber Salad, or similar. I can’t wait for summer to come around again, when the tomatoes, basil, parsley, cilantro, peppers, cukes and zukes are pouring in from gardens, farm shares and markets. Adding beans to some summer salads is a great way to turn a vegetable triage project into a meal. Here’s a simple recipe that can easily be adapted.
Well, there you have it – 10 bean recipe ideas, and I haven’t even mentioned chili! I’ll be updating this post with links to other recipe posts as I get them up, so bookmark it or subscribe to the free Re-Think Green newsletter if you’re interested in developing a mean bean habit.
Sept. 2016, edited to include link to summer salad recipe.