Beans: How to make 1 pot for a week and never get bored

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“Grains and legumes are grown on larger scale farms,” explains former farmer and chef Abra Berens, who grew up on an industrial pickle farm. In her cookbook “Grist,” she describes the invisible jobs of farming, including the story of Carl Wagner, a seed cleaner from Niles, Michigan, whose job is to take wheat berries that are threshed on the combine and eliminate the extra chaff, rocks, and debris. Berens says he is at the center of the resurgence of the “artisan grain chain.”  

Berens shares ideas for a week’s worth of black beans and explains the offgassing of beans.


Cook ’em once; eat ’em five times. Stretch one big pot of black beans into a workweek’s worth of distinct meals.

day one – basic black bean boiling recipe


  • ¼ cup [60 ml] neutral oil
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin seed
  • ½ tsp chili flakes (optional)
  • 2 cups [400 g] dried black beans, soaked or not, depending on your state of mind
  • ½ tsp salt


-In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the spices and fry to bloom until fragrant (1 minute). Add the beans and toss to coat, then cover with cold water by 2 in [5 cm], bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook until tender, adding more water if needed.

-When the beans are tender, add the salt and let the beans cool in the cooking liquid for at least 10 minutes (like soup, they get better the longer they sit—ideally, overnight). (You can reserve the cooking liquid for various uses, if you like.) 

-Make it more than just a pile of beans with one of these additions: 

*Add a starch: Combining protein and starch makes a complete meal. I usually assume half as much starch to the volume of beans I have on hand. Very optional, but a starch can also help flesh out a bowl of beans: rice, fonio (a millet-like grain), chickpea pancake, farro, bulgur, and on and on.

*Add a vegetable: Adding a pile of roasted carrots and delicately dressed radicchio to a bowl of rice and beans lifts the dish from age-old staple to contemporary $14-small-plate status. Consider roasted carrots, sweet potatoes, stewed peppers, raw tomato, shaved radishes, roasted broccoli, shaved cauliflower, and of course greens, raw or cooked, in addition to any other veg or on their own. 

*Add some fat: Vitamins and micronutrients in beans are fat-soluble, so adding a dollop of sour cream or mashed avocado is not only delicious but also increases absorption of the healthful side of beans. Try sour cream, avocado, cheese, olive oil, chili oil, nuts, tahini, or vinaigrette. 

*Add something acidic: Beans are rich and provide the base of flavor for a great dish. That base is accentuated by an acidic foil. Top your bowl of beans with a spoonful of vinaigrette, spoonful of mustard, squeeze of lime, or spoonful of fermented vegetables to add dynamism and contrast. 

*Add something crunchy: Speaking of contrast, beans are often cooked until creamy and comforting. Adding a sprinkle of something crunchy means your mouth won’t get too comfortable (read: bored). A handful of chopped nuts or a crumble of potato chips, tortilla chips, fried chickpeas, or crisped-up buckwheat will enliven the enveloping succor of a bowl of warm beans.

day two

-Fill a quesadilla with a spoonful of black beans and serve with a cabbage salad dressed in Mojo de Ajo.

day three

-Use reserved bean cooking liquid to make a soup.

day four

-Beans for breakfast! Warm a couple of big scoops of cooked beans and top with a soft-boiled egg and a handful of greens dressed with a spoonful of Lemon Parsley Mojo.

day five

-Blend the last of the black beans with a couple glugs of olive oil to make hummus. Use that hummus to make any number of things: a BBLT (black bean, lettuce, and tomato) for lunch, or serve the purée with a dollop of Harissa and any array of veg for a snack platter. Or schmear the hummus onto Chickpea Fritters and top with some fresh greens for a light dinner, or transfer the purée to an ovenproof dish, cover evenly with a melty cheese, and bake until warm and bubbly, then serve with toast or chips for scooping, or . . . the options are endless.

Abra Berens is a writer and the chef at Granor Farm. Her experience as a farmer and chef in the upper midwest Great Lakes region of the U.S. gives her a deep focus working with grains, beans, seeds, and legumes of all kinds. Photo by EE Berger.

Abra Berens profiles farmers and shares recipes using grains, legumes, and seeds in her latest book, “Grist.” Photo courtesy of Chronicle Books.



Evan Kleiman