Impeachment acquittal, Trump’s State of the Union address, don’t get me started. What’s really exciting in DC these days isn’t happening on Capitol Hill, it’s happening at the Washington Post. Food editor Joe Yonan has fallen for beans. His new cookbook Cool Beans is a veritable love letter to legumes.
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Having grown up in west Texas, Yonan knows his way around black beans and pinto beans. And for sheer versatility, he says, you can’t beat the chickpea. But his career as a food writer led him deeper down the pulse path, culminating in Cool Beans. Perhaps it’s wrong to have a favorite bean, but in the course of research and recipe development, Yonan confesses, “I really fell for cranberry beans.” Aka borlotti beans, cacahuate (or peanut), Roman, Tuscan and coco rose, by any name, they cook up “plump and creamy.”
Yonan and I bond over beans. But there’s one point where we agree to disagree — pre-soaking. Pre-soaking, covering beans in cold water for several hours or even overnight prior to cooking, requires almost no effort and rewards you with the best beans — more tender and digestible. Yonan, however, is not a devout bean pre-soaker — bold. He prefers the ancient Asian technique of cooking beans with a strip of kombu, an amino acid-rich seaweed, which adds some umami and “actually helps soften the beans.”
We may differ there, but I’m all in when it comes to Yonan’s recipes — beancentric soups, stews, burgers, tacos, pizzas, pâtes, dips, casseroles and more, drawing on the cuisines of Mexico, Morocco, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, New England and the Southwest. “You can work beans into virtually anything,” and Yonan does an excellent job of it with Cool Beans. Sure he wants you to make his recipes, but he also invites you to experience beans in their elegant simplicity. After cooking and before incorporating them into recipes, “Taste them first.” They have a richness and satisfying chew all by themselves.
Looking to up your bean game? “Buy better beans. There’s nothing more inspiring than working with a fabulous product.” Yonan and I share a passion for the coolest beans, heirloom bean brands like Rancho Gordo, Camellia and organic Timeless.
Beans, pulses, legumes, call them what you will, they are indeed timeless. “Look at traditional cooking around the world,” says Yonan. “Millions and millions of people have eaten beans for thousands of years. They can’t be wrong.” He cites Blue Zones, communities where people enjoy longer, happier lives, in part because of their bean-rich diet. Pulses are high in protein and fiber, with a lusciousness all their own, and there’s an all-but-infinite variety to explore and savor.
The very thought makes us pause and give contented sighs. Says Yonan, “There’s nothing like a bean.”
LENTIL, ZUCCHINI, AND CHERRY TOMATO SLOPPY JOES
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 yellow onion chopped
- 4 garlic cloves chopped
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon ground ancho chile
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes quartered
- 2 small zucchini cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 cups cooked brown lentils drained and rinsed
- 1 teaspoon light or dark brown sugar
- 6 kaiser rolls or sturdy buns warmed but not toasted
- 12 sour pickle slices
- Pour the olive oil into a large skillet over medium heat. When it shimmers, stir in the onion and garlic and sauté until they soften, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, ground chile, salt, and red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Stir in the cherry tomatoes and zucchini and cook until the tomatoes collapse, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the lentils and brown sugar, increase the heat to bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the squash is tender but not mushy and a thick sauce has formed. Taste and add more salt if needed. Let cool slightly.
- Divide the bottom buns among six plates. Spoon the warm filling onto the buns, top with the pickles and the top buns, and serve.
Photography credit: Aubrie Pick © 2020
“Reprinted with permission from Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, with 125 Recipes by Joe Yonan, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.”
Photography credit: Aubrie Pick © 2020