"Cool Beans!" An exclamation used to express approval and delight. So true with this book!
Reviewed in the United States on 17 February 2020
"Cool Beans!" Surely it's an expression to shout from your roof top once you start working with this book.
Rather than write a review the day after the book was published, it took me somewhat longer to work with some of the recipes here and formulate my thoughts. I’ve still not covered all the recipes that I’ve got marked, but I’ve made up my mind that this is a very worthy book. And, hey, don’t forget to browse through the “Look Inside” feature on this product page. Ten Speed Press always does a great job of giving you, ahead of time, a good indication of the quality of the cook book you are considering buying. And, by perusing the contents and index pages, you can see the titles of all the chapters and most, if not all, the recipe names, plus see all pertinent ingredients.
At the top of your list, “Good Reasons to Buy this Book”: It’s by Joe Yonan, a personable and true journalist who’s been with the Washington Post for a long time and who is dedicated to communication, teaching and learning. Personally, as I have most of his other cook books, and as I try to keep up with his Washington Post articles, I knew this book would be full of great material. And it is. If you don't believe me, and that's not enough to make you want to buy this book on beans, keep reading.
IT’S ALL ABOUT BEANS! “COOL BEANS”! Those two words are an exclamation that will always remind me of my daughter, cause’ that was a favorite saying of hers during her younger days. So I felt a connection with this book before I even opened its pages. And, it’s JUST about beans and veggies, because Yonan has eliminated meat from his diet. So, meat eaters be aware: If you can’t picture your beans without a ham hock or whatever, you will need to add meat and meat flavorings to the ingredient lists yourself. And that’s a simple thing to do. (I’m saying these recipes can easily be adapted to accommodate those families and cooks that are leaning away from meat, but who have not eliminated it from their diets.)
I was happy to see the great variety of beans represented in these recipes. (Although I personally found a few too many chickpea recipes.) So if you are anything like me--with a few burlap sacks from Dove Creek (Adobe Milling) sitting picturesquely in a corner, nestled next to a wicker basket filled with the latest Bean Club order from Rancho Gordo, and another basket of lady cream peas, baby green limas and gorgeously-colored kidney beans from Camellia—this is a book suited perfectly for you. Hey, it’s a book for all bean lovers, and all those with favorites, as Yonan includes dried, fresh, and canned beans, peas and lentils in his ingredient lists. And he includes alternatives in his instructions and tips, too.
Okay, so for the past few weeks I’ve been cooking beans almost every day it seems. And the house is always fragrant with what’s on the stove. Yonan does provide instructions for cooking them on the stove like I do. But, more importantly, because I’m not in the majority anymore, and Yonan gives instructions for pressure cooking and multi-cooker and Instant Pot cooking. (He uses a pressure cooker, I believe.) He covers all the different ideas and techniques for cooking consistently perfect beans—soft and creamy inside and with skins intact and not tough. He mentions Rancho Gordo and ATK and individual authors and cooks when discussing techniques; brining, and using kombu, too.
And because this book has put me in the mood to cook multitudes of beans, having his chapters on salads and dips and snacks, plus his tips on freezing and storing, are preventing those cooked beans from building up in the frig. The dips in this book are so, so good—I’ll always be prepared for surprise visitors and healthy snacking with a few of these made up.
It still being wintertime, I’m delving more into the soup, stew, one dish and casserole recipes than into the chapter of salads. (Although there is a Christmas Lima, Kale and Tomato Salad that Ranch Gordo fans will be very happy with, and a Lady Cream Pea, Sweet Potato and Charred Okra Salad for the Camellia clientele.)
In my last Rancho Gordo Bean Club box, I got a package of a “prized”, hard-to-find, black beans called Santenera Negro Delgado. There is a very fine Smoky Black Bean and Plantain Chili. And if you need an introduction to using plantains (other than fried), this is the recipe to try. It will be a revelation! There’s another Cuban-Style black bean Stew-soup recipe with orange flavor, and that’s a great idea that I’ve not even seen in any of my Cuban cook books. But what I think is the BEST black bean recipe in this book? It’s the Salsa Madre, which they are calling “Black Bean Mother Sauce Puree”. And that is what I used my Santenera Negro Delgado beans to make. I will forever be grateful for the great timing of my Bean Club order and the publication of this book. It was an ideal opportunity to honor both the bean and the recipe.
I am a huge fan of Lady Cream Peas, fresh or dried. This one recipe alone--for Roasted Tomato and Pepper Soup--is worth the price of this book. I’ve salivated over many of the pictures in this book, but the idea of including Lady Cream Peas in a roasted tomato and pepper soup makes me crave it just thinking about it.
Oh, and speaking of pictures: For those of you who believe it matters, there is NOT A PICTURE for each recipe. There are 50 pictures of prepared beans, plus some other pictures of dried beans and beans cooking. There are about 125 recipes. Sure, I’d like to see more pictures, (especially for something hard to see in my mind's eye, like the skewers of mushrooms and gigante beans), but I think a lot of bean dishes would start looking a bit too similar after a while. And I bet someone, soon, will post a picture of that satay somewhere…… Plus, if I had to choose between a picture and a recipe--I'd choose another recipe every time!
Some unusual and worthy recipes: A White Bean Brandade; Texas-Style Bowl O’ Red—beans, no meat; and a spectacular Show-Stopping Whole Roasted Cauliflower (on a bed of contrasting-color hummus), and Rigatoni E Ceci (with chickpeas).
Some simple, worthy recipes: Marinated Lima Beans; a vegan Southern Baked Beans; Spicy Ethiopian Red Lentil Dip; Chickpea Aioli, and a Salty Margarita Sour, (and plenty of info on aquafaba).
Some others worth noting, that I’d like to try before Spring arrives: Ratatouille Cassoulet and Root Vegetable, White Bean and Mushroom Cassoulet. There’s even a Chickpea and Quinoa Chorizo for those who strictly avoid meat.
I am very grateful to have this book now. There are not many good bean cook books out there, you know? And oftentimes—while I can make some pretty mouthwatering bean dishes with my usual basics (Working with great beans, how can you not make a great bean-based or one-bowl dinner?)—it still gets to be same old, same old. This book helps me out of that rut.
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