“Cool Beans” is a new cookbook that celebrates the joy of cooking with beans for every meal, from appetizers to desserts. Author Joe Yonan, the Washington Post’s food and dining editor, grew up in West Texas, where he often ate Tex-Mex and Mexican food.
“I think I fell in love with probably the first bean I had, which would have definitely been … beans and rice on the side of some enchiladas at a Tex-Mex restaurant,” he tells KCRW.
Why do beans have a dowdy reputation?
“I think for a lot of people, they might be really associating beans with poverty, which is certainly true. Beans are so cheap and affordable to make that they are the basis of a lot of cuisines around the world. And they certainly do help you put a nutritious meal on the table for not very much money,” says Yonan.
He continues, “But I think that we in America tend to really venerate culinary traditions that come from maybe some more elegant backgrounds. And it's only been, I think, recent that we've really paid attention to the influence of all the wonderful immigrant foods in this country. And beans are certainly part of that.”
Soaking beans: Optional
Yonan says you don't have to soak beans, but you might want to because that process will lessen the gas effects of beans.
He adds, “The biggest reason that I would soak beans would be if I'm not sure how old they are. I feel like soaking is a little bit of an insurance policy.”
Salting beans: Does that make them hard?
You might’ve heard that you shouldn’t salt your beans until the end when you're cooking them -- because too much salt too early would make your beans hard.
Yonan says that’s not really true. “From all the research that I did, there's a very small time difference. It'll extend the cooking by a little bit. But I think the tradeoff is that you end up with a really flavorful pot of beans if you add the salt at the beginning, or salt them when you're soaking them.”
A fabled bean dish in Mexico
Yonan’s book begins with a trip to Mexico. He was on a mission to taste as many bean dishes as possible. He went to Maximo, a restaurant owned by chef Eduardo “Lalo” Garcia, whom he calls the “bean whisperer.” Yonan was there an hour before his reservation so he could talk with Garcia about beans.
Yonan recalls, “He's talking about his own background, and about Mexican-U.S. trade policy, and about how he thinks NAFTA has really compromised a lot of Mexico's ability to really uplift its own culinary culture.”
He continues, “Now, I had heard that he makes this really great pot of beans. And so I'm asking about them. He's talking about this particular variety called cacahuate that I didn't know. Cacahuate means peanut, so they're named for the way that the bean looks when it's raw. … And he's going on and on and on. And this is about an hour before we're going to sit down for dinner. And then he drops the news on me that he happens to be out of them.”
It turned out that an LA chef had visited and convinced Garcia to give her all the beans, Yonan says. But thankfully, Garcia was getting another shipment, so Yonan and his husband returned to the restaurant a few days later for those beans.
Recipe: Lalo’s Cacahuate Beans with Pico De Gallo
4 main course or 8 side dish servings
Mexico City chef Eduardo “Lalo” Garcia’s secret is to cook these beans very simply, for a very long time, until they’re super-soft, then to add his seasoning — a sofrito of onion, garlic, tomatoes, and dried chiles — and boil them for another half hour, simultaneously infusing them with flavor and concentrating their cooking liquid. These are some of the simplest and yet most complex beans I’ve ever tasted, let alone cooked. A straightforward pico de gallo adds a little freshness and crunch. Serve with tortillas.
- 1 white onion
- 1 pound dried cranberry / borlotti (aka cacahuate) beans, soaked overnight
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large tomatoes, chopped
- 2 dried ancho or guajillo chiles, stemmed, seeded, and cut into strips
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
PICO DE GALLO (MAKES ABOUT 2 CUPS)
- 2 Roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
- 1/3 cup finely diced red onion
- 1/2 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded, and diced
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
- 1/2 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Cut the onion in half. Keep one half intact and throw it into a large pot. Chop the other half and reserve.
Add the beans and 1 of the garlic cloves to the pot, along with enough water to cover the beans by 3 inches, and turn the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat as low as it will go, cover, and cook until the beans are tender, 60 to 90 minutes.
Chop the remaining garlic clove.
While the beans are cooking, make the sofrito: Pour the oil into a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the reserved chopped onion and the chopped garlic and cook until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and chiles and cook until the tomatoes break down, release their liquid, and become very soft, and most of the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.
When the beans are tender, sir in the sofrito, increase the heat to high, and cook, uncovered, until the beans are very soft and starting to break apart and the liquid has reduced by about one-third but the beans are still brothy, about 30 minutes. Stir in the salt, taste, and add more if needed.
While the beans are cooking, make the pico de gallo: In a mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, onion, chile, olive oil, lime juice, cilantro, and salt. Taste and add more salt if needed.
When the beans are ready, divide them among shallow bowls and top each portion with some pico de gallo. Serve hot, with tortillas.
Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Recipe 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.
--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Michell Eloy