"Who would ever think looking at a handful of dried beans-pebble-hard, utterly inedible-that when cooked, they are transformed into one of the most delicious foods on earth?" In FULL OF BEANS: 75 Exciting, Tasty Recipes (HarperPerennial; 1996; $12.50/trade paperback), highly regarded food writer Brooke Dojny offers expert advice and inspired recipes to help home cooks do just that-transform legumes into the most delicious and nutritious bean dishes ever.
Beans have been an important ingredient in the cuisines of almost every culture around the world for centuries: Feijoada in Brazil, Minestrone in Italy, Cassoulet in France, and Hummus in the Middle East. And now, finally, they are getting the attention they deserve in the United States. No longer the well-kept secret of vegetarians, beans have found a mainstream audience in all Americans who have recognized their nutritional and epicurean value.
Nutritionally, the benefits of beans are beyond belief. According to the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid, beans offer a wonderful balance in the daily diet. They are high in protein, complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber, low in fat and sodium, cholesterol-free, and rich in vitamins and minerals. Studies done by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association also show that beans help reduce the risks of certain illnesses and diseases.
In addition to their health benefits, beans are blessed with a variety of tastes and textures, and they are the ideal replacement for meat as well as a zesty complement to a meaty meal. In FULL OF BEANS, Dojny shares an assortment of recipes, from "Delectable Appetizers, Dips, and Snacks," "Splendid Bean Soups," and "Sandwiches with Beany Fillings," to "Sprightly Bean Salads!" and "Scrumptious Main Dishes."
Diners at your table will applaud Dojny's version of U.S. Senate Navy Bean Soup along with other classic American comfort foods like Low Country Hoppin' John, New England "From Scratch" Baked Beans, and Chili Bean Sloppy Joe's. International favorites include Cuban Black Beans and Rice, Soupe au Pistou, and Italian Sausage and White Beans on Arugula. The juxtaposition of delightful flavors, textures and colors can be found in Grilled Pizzas with Cannelini, Tomatoes, and Olives and Black Bean Cakes with Ragin' Cajun Salsa . And, sophisticated seasonal samplings for a picnic or barbecue include Springtime Fava Bean Medley, Red Bean, Sun-Dried Tomato and Mushroom Sauce on Polenta, and Simplified Risotto with Pink Beans, Roasted Garlic, and Tomatoes.
Dojny prefaces these versatile recipes with loads of legume lore and helpful hints that will dispel any preconceived notions about their preparation time and cooking methods. For instance, presoaking dried beans does not necessarily shorten their cooking time (nor does it reduce their gas-producing effects!). And, while simmering good-quality dried beans "from scratch" is the ideal cooking method, canned beans are always a welcome substitute and a real time-saver. Full of everything the aspiring and experienced bean eater needs to know, FULL OF BEANS is full of fun and good eating too!
Brooke Dojny is the co-author, with Melanie Barnard, of the popular Parties! and Cheap Eats, and a regular monthly column in Bon Appetit magazine.
In Texas, of course, almost everything comes with a larger-than life name or description, including the Lone Star version of "caviar." In fact, the small, shiny, black beans that are the basis of this relish do bear a faint resemblance to sturgeon eggs, so maybe the idea is not completely far-fetched. In true Texas style, this zesty condiment is almost lip-searingly hot, but you can adjust the amount of ground pepper if you like. It's fabulous as an accompaniment to any type of cooked meat and adds an interesting dimension to almost any sandwich.
In a bowl, combine the beans, onion, red pepper, jalapeños, and garlic.
In a medium-sized nonreactive saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, chili powder, savory, cumin, salt, black pepper, cayenne and white pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the black bean mixture, bring to a boil, stirring frequently and simmer for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice.
Transfer the mixture to a bowl and refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour. (Can be made 4 days ahead and kept refrigerated.)
Serve the relish cold or at room temperature.
This is an interesting "white" chili-a lovely oregano-flecked delicate beige color, with a creamy texture but a surprisingly zippy kick of peppery flavor. It's a perfect use for leftover cooked chicken or supermarket rotisserie-roasted chicken. Serve this splendid chili with steamed rice, rolled warm corn tortillas, and pass the colorful garnishes at the table.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or saucepan. Add the onion and sauté over medium heat until softened and lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, cumin, and ginger and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth, wine, and bay leaf. Cook uncovered over medium-high heat until somewhat reduced, 5 to 8 minutes.
Add the chicken, beans, and jalapeños. Simmer uncovered for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Using the back of a spoon, mash about one-quarter of the beans to thicken the sauce. (Can be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated, or frozen. Reheat gently before finishing.)
Over low heat, add the cheese one handful at a time, stirring until melted. Add the pepper and taste for salt, adding some if necessary.
Remove the pieces of bay leaf. Serve the chili topped with some or all of the garnishes.
Note: You can substitute 12 ounces of uncooked skinless, boneless chicken breast or thigh meat. Cut in rough 3/4-inch dice and add with the broth and wine in Step 1.
My first taste of red beans 'n' rice in New Orleans was one of those eating epiphanies. It was at Buster Home's very simple but very atmospheric storefront cafe on Burgundy Street, where all the food was cooked in a tiny kitchen in the back. This is a straightforward soulful New Orleans-style comfort food at its best, and when I make this warming dish on a chilly Sunday Afternoon I am instantly transported back to that day in "the Big Easy."
If you like, soak the beans in water to cover for 4 hours or overnight. Drain into a colander. In a large soup pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add the soaked or unsoaked beans and ham bone, bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low. Cook covered until the beans are almost but not quite tender, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Remove the ham bone(s) with tongs and, when cool enough to handle, cut any meat off the bone and add to the beans. Discard the bone.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery and scallions. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Scrape the sausage/vegetable mixture into the pot with the beans.
Add the bay leaves, thyme, and black pepper to the pot and continue cooking uncovered over low heat until the beans are very tender, 30 to 45 minutes. (Can be made 2 days ahead to this point. Cover and refrigerate. Reheat gently before proceeding.)
Meanwhile, bring 3 cups of water to the boil in a medium-large saucepan. Add the rice and salt stir once, and cook covered over very low heat until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed, about 20 minutes.
Using the back of a spoon, mash about a fourth of the beans against the side of the pan to thicken the mixture. Season with Tabasco and taste for salt. (The beans will probably not need any because the smoked meats are quite salty.) Add a bit more liquid if necessary. The beans should be thick but soupy enough to be ladled out.
To serve, spoon the red beans over the hot cooked rice.
Note: Canned bean option: You can substitute 4 cups of rinsed and drained canned cooked beans for the dried beans. Simmer them with about 3 cups of water along with the sausage and vegetables.
This page originally published as a FoodDay article in 1997.
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This page modified February 2007
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