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Spill the Beans

January 19, 2012 By:
Linda Morel, Jewish Exponent Feature
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I used to be intimidated by dried beans. The thought of soaking them made me nervous. But when I realized all it takes to be an aficionado is boiling water, I began preparing every kind of dried bean imaginable.

Then I became a snob, pitying people who bought canned beans. But I've passed through that phase and now incorporate both dried and canned beans in recipes, depending on my mood and how much time I have on my hands. Admittedly, soaking does require time, but you can do other things in the interim.

Exactly what are beans? They are legumes, closely related to peas, chickpeas, soybeans and peanuts. If you take a peek at these starchy cousins growing in the garden, you'd see a family resemblance. Legumes always develop in pods.

There are many reasons to eat beans. Abundant in vitamins and minerals, beans also contain generous amounts of protein and fiber. Beans are not only filling but a highly economical food. In supermarkets, I've seen 10 cans for $1, although they can cost $1.69 a can. A bag of dried beans, which can feed four people, sells in the $1.59-a-pound range, about 40 cents a serving.

Beans are also versatile. Coming in colors -- from green to yellow, red, black and beige -- beans can be sprinkled into salads, whipped into dips, and added to soups and stews. In place of noodles or rice, they can accompany any vegetable or meat.

I always keep a variety of beans in my pantry. An open can or a portion of cooked dried beans can be stored in the refrigerator for at least a week. Dried beans almost never go bad. If stored in an airtight container, they should still be edible after several years -- although they're so scrumptious, I don't know why anyone would keep them that long.

White Bean Hummus
(Pareve)

1 (19-oz.) can cannellini (white kidney) beans
2 Tbsps. olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 Tbsps. freshly squeezed lemon juice
kosher salt to taste
Garnish: paprika to sprinkle or 1 Tbsp. parsley leaves, minced

Drain beans in a colander. Reserve.

Place oil in a small saucepan. Add the garlic. Heat on a low flame until the oil starts to bubble and garlic becomes fragrant, about 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the flame immediately. Do not let garlic brown as it turns bitter.

Place the beans, garlic and oil, lemon juice and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until beans are mashed so well no bean lumps remain.

Turn hummus into a small serving bowl. Sprinkle with paprika or parsley. Serve immediately with pita bread and/or crudités.

Yield: 11/2 cups.

Hearty Black Bean Soup
(Pareve or Dairy)

1 (16-oz.) bag dried black beans
1/2 tsp. kosher salt, plus additional salt to taste
1 vegetable bouillon cube
3 Tbsps. corn oil, or any cooking oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. chili powder
1 and 1/4 tsps. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. curry powder
1 (28-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes in puree
zest from one slice of lemon
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
optional garnish: 6 Tbsps. of reduced-fat sour cream

Place beans in a colander and rinse under cold water. Move beans to a medium-large pot. Pour in 8 cups of water. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon salt into the pot and cover.

On a low flame, simmer beans for 13/4 hours, or until beans are softened. Add more water, if bean broth thickens. Water will turn black.

Remove beans from the flame. Uncover the pot to let beans cool enough to handle. Place a large bowl under a colander. Pour beans and water into the colander. Drain beans and save the black bean broth.

Dissolve bouillon cube in 1/2 cup of hot tap water and reserve.

In a large pot, briefly heat oil on a low flame. Add the onion and garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Sprinkle in chili powder, cumin, curry and kosher salt to taste. Stir to blend.

Pour in the bouillon water and the tomato puree and stir. With your hands, slowly crush each of the canned tomatoes over the pot, being careful not to splatter yourself. Cover and simmer for 5-8 minutes, stirring often and continuing to crush the tomatoes with a spoon utensil.

Add the lemon zest, red pepper flakes, beans and 2 cups of the bean broth. Check seasoning and add more salt, if desired. Simmer for 20 minutes or until the tomatoes soften and the soup thickens a bit.

Remove from flame and cool briefly until safe to handle. Ladle out about half of the soup and place in pot or bowl. Using a blender, puree half of the soup in batches.

Pour the pureed soup back into the pot and mix together with the chunkier half.

If the soup seems too thick, add a bit more black bean broth and stir to combine. Reheat gently and serve immediately in bowls. Dollop one tablespoon of sour cream atop each bowl, if using.

Serves 6.

Greek-Style Gigante Beans
(Pareve)

1 (15.5-oz.) can Habas Grandes or butter beans
2 Tbsps. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, diced fine
2 Italian plum tomatoes, diced
2 medium-sized carrots, diced fine
kosher salt to taste
1/4 tsp. dried oregano leaves

Drain beans in a colander and reserve.

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the oil on a medium-low flame. Add the garlic and onion and stir. Saute until translucent, about 2 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, carrots, salt and oregano. Stir to combine. Saute until the tomatoes start to sweat, about 2 minutes.

Add the beans and stir. Saute until a nice sauce forms, about 8 minutes. Cover pot and let rest for a few minutes. Recipe can be served immediately but the flavors improve if refrigerated, warmed and served a day later.

Serves 4 as part of a mezze (appetizer assortment) or a side dish.

Take It Up a Notch Baked Beans
(Pareve)

2 (16-oz.) cans vegetarian baked beans
2 tsps. spicy brown mustard
4 tsps. ketchup
1 tsp. maple syrup

Place all ingredients into a saucepan. Mix together with a spoon. Cover pan and heat on a medium flame until simmering briskly and sauce thickens. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 6.

Chicken and Lamb Cassoulet
(Meat)

1 and 1/4 cups dried chick peas
2 Tbsps. olive oil, or more if needed
4 chicken thighs, bone in and skin on
13/4 lbs. lamb shoulder, cut into stew meat
kosher salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 strips of turkey bacon
1 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 large carrots, diced
3 ribs of celery, diced
1/4 tsp. crushed dried sage leaves
1/4 tsp. crushed dried thyme leaves
3 cups chicken broth
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1/4 cup dry red wine

Place chick peas in a colander and rinse under cold water. In a medium-sized saucepan, boil 3 cups of water. Carefully spoon chick peas into the water. Cover the pan immediately and soak chick peas for 90 minutes.

Drain soaked chick peas in the colander. However, during the soaking time, follow the directions below through adding the turkey bacon, chicken, lamb and soaked chick peas to the Dutch oven.

Coat the bottom and sides of a Dutch oven with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Sprinkle chicken and lamb with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken skin side down in the Dutch oven. Saute on a medium-low flame until skin browns, and then turn and brown on the other side. Move chicken to a large mixing bowl.

If too much rendered chicken fat has accumulated in the Dutch oven, carefully pour it off into a heat proof container.

Brown the lamb in the Dutch oven, adding more oil if needed, now or at any time during preparation. Move the lamb to the bowl with the chicken.

Sear the turkey bacon in the Dutch oven until brown. Remove turkey strips and place in the mixing bowl.

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Saute the onion and garlic in the Dutch oven until translucent, about 2 minutes. Add the carrots, celery, sage and thyme, stirring for 2 minutes.

Pour chicken broth into the Dutch oven and stir. Mix tomato paste with 1 cup of water and add. Pour in the red wine and stir well. Use a spoon utensil to scrape off any bits stuck to the pan.

Break up turkey strips into bite-sized pieces and add to the Dutch oven, along with the chicken, lamb, and drained chick peas.

Cover the Dutch oven and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 90 minutes. If serving with rice, start preparation after 75 minutes.

Take cassoulet from oven and remove the cover. Baste the surface meat and vegetables with the sauce in the Dutch oven.

Return cassoulet to the oven uncovered, baking for another 20 minutes, or until the chicken skin crisps.

Serve immediately with rice.

Serves 6.

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