Bask in beans: Low cost, high nutrition, endless recipes

By Evan Kleiman

Beans come in many shapes, sizes and colors each with a distinctive flavor and texture. Photo courtesy of Canva.

Beans turned out to be the first wave pandemic food. Their nutritional utility and recipe variety is endless. Like most plant-based foods, if you explore beyond what’s available in the grocery store, you will find a variety of flavors, textures, sizes, and colors. 

I’m an aficionado of locally-grown beans like those from Kandarian Organic Farms and Two Peas in a Pod, who provide a tasty selection at our farmers markets. I’m also a devotee of Napa-based Rancho Gordo. Buying from these sources ensures a supply of fresh dried beans.

This may sound like an oxymoron, but even though beans are dried, there is a qualitative difference between 6-month-old beans and those that you find in the grocery store that have been in storage for years. Our local bean farmers provide a depth of inventory that is a continuing education, while giving us the aesthetic beauty of the beans, which is such a pleasure. 

Oftentimes they look like polished beads. But as with most food items, in the end, it comes down to taste. These carefully sourced and grown beans have a true depth of flavor, and the bean liquor they throw off is so good that sometimes I save the extra and freeze it to use like broth. 

There are many ways of cooking beans and each has its appeal — from simply simmering on a stovetop with salt, to giving them a long stay in a Dutch oven filled with aromatics, or using an electric pressure cooker. You can cook beans in a more complex recipe that gives you one or two meals, like chili beans or black bean soup, something you cook today to eat today. Or you can cook them in a batch that allows you to use them differently throughout a week. This last method is beautifully illustrated by Chef Abra Berens in her cookbook “Grist.”