The idea of beans may not seem very exciting, but I have learned differently. As a child and young adult, I refused to eat beans. I didn’t like the taste or texture of them. At home and at restaurants, I did not want them on my plate. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned to love beans. Now I can’t get enough of them. Beans are one of the most amazing foods we can eat. They are healthy, filling and a hearty addition to many dishes. Beans are economical and a great value for your money especially if you buy dried beans. They are convenient, easy to cook and easy to store. Beans are highly versatile and can be used for spreads, stews, soups, entrees, sides and desserts. Talk about variety – there are many types of beans, each with its own taste and texture – adzuki, black, black-eyed peas, cannellini, fava, garbanzo, kidney, navy, pinto, and soy to name just a few. How could we ever get bored of beans? If you think beans are boring, like I once did, read on for ways to cook beans to make them exciting.
1. Make Chili
Chili is a magical dish. You can put pretty much anything you want in it, change it up all the time and it will always be warm, hearty and filling. My Three Bean Chili uses parsnips instead of carrots and 3 different types of beans. You probably got that from the name. You can use whichever beans you like. I used black beans, dark red kidney beans and garbanzo beans. You might be thinking that chickpeas in a chili sound strange but they add a nice firmer texture than the other softer beans. Trust me. Heat 1 Tbs. vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add 1 diced onion and sauté for 5 minutes until softened. Add 1 chopped bell pepper, 4 minced garlic cloves, 1 small can of diced green chiles, ½ cup corn kernels and 2 diced parsnips. Cook the veggies until tender, about 8 minutes. Mix in 5-6 diced plum tomatoes, 2 cups cooked black beans, 2 cups cooked red kidney beans and 2 cups cooked garbanzo beans. Add 1 cup water or vegetable broth. Stir in 1 Tbs. Mexican chile powder, 1 Tbs. ground cumin, 1 Tbs. ground coriander, 1 Tbs. paprika, a pinch of red pepper flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the chili to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 45 minutes, stirring often, until the veggies are tender and the chili has thickened. Add 2 Tbs. fresh chopped cilantro to the chili. Garnish with chopped scallions, raw chopped red onion, vegan sour cream, and/or vegan cheese.
For another three bean chili, try this Three Bean and Sweet Potato Chili. More chilis to try are Chipotle Sweet Potato and Black Bean Chili, Chipotle Chocolate Chili, Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Chili and Sweet Potato and Quinoa Chili.
2. Make Soup
Nothing is more comforting to me than soups filled with beans, greens and pasta. A favorite Italian soup is called Pasta e Fagioli or more informally, pasta fazool. This classic dish contains all 3 of these healthy, delicious ingredients. To make my Pasta e Fagioli: in a large stockpot, heat 1 Tbs. oil over medium heat. Saute 1 diced onion for about 4 minutes until softened. Add 3 thinly sliced scallions, 1 large diced carrot, 2 ribs of diced celery, and 2 cloves minced garlic to the pot. Let cook for 4 minutes until the vegetables soften. Mix in 1 tsp. dried rosemary and ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes. Stir in 6-8 cups vegetable broth and/or water and 2 cups chopped tomatoes. Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add 1 ½ cups cooked pinto beans and 3 cups cooked fusilli or other small pasta. Season the soup with salt and black pepper to taste. Add 1 large bunch of chopped chard, kale or other greens to the pot. Do not stir. Cover the pot and let the greens steam until they are a verdant, bright green. Uncover the pot and stir in the greens. Serve while hot. Sprinkle with vegan grated parmesan, if desired.
3. Add Them to Sides
Adding beans to side dishes makes them heartier and more satisfying. It can even turn sides into entrees. One of my very favorite cuisines is Jamaican (Ital) food. A traditional Jamaican dish combines rice and pigeon peas with coconut milk and spices. Any kind of beans can be used if you can’t find pigeon peas. To make my Jamaican Rice and Peas: heat 1 Tbs. coconut oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add 1 small chopped onion and cook for 4 minutes until softened and beginning to brown. Add 4 minced garlic cloves and 1 ½ cups brown rice and toss to coat the rice with oil. Mix in 1 tsp. kosher salt and 1 tsp. fresh grated ginger. Add 1 cup water or vegetable broth and 2 cups coconut milk. Stir well. Add 1 ½ cups cooked pigeon peas to the saucepan. Add 2 tsp. dried thyme and stir everything together. Add 2 fresh bay leaves. Let the rice cook until the liquids begin to simmer. Then lower the heat and cover the saucepan. Cook for 40 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat and let sit for 10 more minutes. Uncover, remove the bay leaves and fluff with a fork. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary. Squeeze lime juice over top.
Other side dishes made more exciting with beans include this White Bean Wild Rice Hash, Lentils with White Bean and Potato Mash, Warm Potato Salad with Spinach and Chickpeas, Couscous and Chestnut Christmas Stuffing, and Barley Risotto with Fava Beans, Corn and Mushrooms.
4. Turn Them into Burgers and Sausages
Mash up some beans with veggies, rice, spices and a binder like flour or oats and you can have the most incredible vegan burger or sausage ever! I use black-eyed peas to make my Gluten-Free Italian Sausage but you could use pinto beans as well. You can also make this Vegan Gutbuster Sandwich with homemade vegan Italian sausage. Black beans are the star of my Hoisin Vegan Black Bean Burgers with Spicy Sesame Sauce and kidney beans make up my Kidney Bean-Walnut Burgers with Mississippi Comeback Sauce. More incredible bean burgers include Potato and Black Bean Burgers, Black Bean Corn and Walnut Burger, Quinoa and White Bean Burger, Avocado and Black Bean Tortas, and these Black and White Bean Burgers. Read How to Make Flavorful Veggie Burgers for tips on making the best burgers.
5. Make Them the Star of Delicious Sides
Besides adding beans into other side dishes, they can be the star of the side dishes themselves. Before I liked beans, I used to eat at Mexican restaurants and instruct them to leave the beans off my plate. Today I want a double order of refried beans because I love them so much. I make my own refried beans and while you can use any type of beans, I prefer to make them with black beans. To make my Refried Black Beans: saute ½ of an onion, minced, 4 minced garlic cloves and 1 seeded and minced jalapeno pepper. Add 3 cups cooked black beans to the skillet and toss with the aromatics. Season the beans with 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander and ½ tsp. black pepper and cook for a few more minutes. Garnish with 1 Tbs. fresh chopped cilantro and enjoy the fiesta. Read How to Cook Veggies Mexican-Style for more tips and recipes.
Another type of beans I would request be left off my plate were the stewed kidney beans they would serve at my favorite Puerto Rican restaurant. Actually, I would avoid the beans but spoon the amazing red sauce over my rice. Sometimes a bean or two would sneak its way into my rice and eventually, I not only learned to like these beans, I loved them. After I became vegan, I had to learn how to create this recipe myself so I could have them anytime I wanted them. It’s just as delicious as I remembered. To make my Habichuelas Guisadas or Puerto Rican Stewed Beans: heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 Tbs. sofrito and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 Tbs. alcaparrado or pimento-stuffed green olives to the pot. Stir in 2 cups cooked red kidney beans and 1 cup tomato sauce. Let the beans cook in the sauce for 2 minutes. Add 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander, ¼ tsp. black pepper, and kosher salt to taste. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 cup water. Cook uncovered for 20-25 minutes until beans are tender and the sauce has thickened. If the sauce gets too thick, add more water. Serve while hot.
6. Toss Them into Salads
Salads are delicious but when you add beans to them, they become amazing. Beans are just the thing to add some protein to an otherwise light meal. Try this Tomato Basil Broccoli Noodle and White Bean Salad, Sprouted Green Lentil and Peanut Salad, Superfood Salad, and this Kale Salad with Grilled Eggplant, White Beans and Figs. Salad can also be made up of the beans themselves as in this Chickpea “Tuna” Salad, Tangy Curried Chickpea Salad, and this Waldorf Salad.
7. Make Sauces
Beans can be used to make incredible sauces for other dishes. One of my favorite sauces in Chinese cuisine is black bean sauce. Despite its name, black bean sauce is not made from black beans but from fermented black soybeans, also known as Chinese black beans. It’s easy to make your own Black Bean Sauce that you can add to your favorite vegetables or tofu: heat 2 tsp. peanut oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add 1 Tbs. fresh grated ginger, 2 minced garlic cloves and ¼ of an onion, minced, and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add 1/3 cup fermented black soybeans and 1 seeded and minced red or green chile to the pan and stir well. Add 1 cup water, ½ cup tamari, ¼ cup brown rice vinegar and 1 Tbs. sugar and stir well. In a small bowl, mix 2 tsp. arrowroot and 1 Tbs. water. Add this mixture to the saucepan and allow the sauce to cook on low heat until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 Tbs. fresh chopped cilantro. Serve on the side of steamed vegetables and pan-fried tofu. Read How to Make Your Own Vegan Chinese Dishes at Home for more tips and recipes. Another amazing dish to try is this Black Bean and Pecan Butter Sauce over Grilled Eggplant and Sauteed Spinach.
These are just a few examples of the many exciting ways to cook with beans. Stock up your pantry with many types of different beans and start finding out for yourself how not boring beans really are.
Image Photo: Three Bean and Sweet Potato Chili