When food and environment writers suggest that you should cut down on meat and eat more vegetarian foods, one of the things they suggest most often is to eat more beans.
Lovely idea. I wish they would also spend more time suggesting recipes – and more precisely, a variety of recipes that can keep you eating them week after week, without feeling like you’re eating the same old thing. For the longest time, I had the impression that my options were chili, bean burritos, minestrone and… chili.
OK, I’m exagerating a little, but when I wanted to make beans a more regular part of the menu rotation, I found I really had to dig to find a wider range of recipes. In food magazines, it’s not exactly like the yearly Thanksgiving recipes special or the summer grill issue.
My first breakthrough came when my mother-in-law bought us The World in Your Kitchen, a book of vegetarian kitchen from all over the planet, which allowed me to discover African, Asian and South American recipes, with all the range of spicing and ingredients that can be found from one continent to the next.
One of the interesting options I discovered in the book, with many variations, is to combine beans with coconut or coconut milk. In one case, there was even a potato, kidney bean and coconut stew that I found particularly convincing – and filling, for sure. I’ve applied this idea in many different ways, including adding a can of coconut milk to a more classic tomato-bean preparation. The creaminess and luscious taste just round out the dish wonderfully, whether the spices you choose are more on the chili side or on the curry side.
More recently, I also started looking at one region that has a long and beautiful tradition of making beans: Tuscany. As a friend reminded me, a nickname for Tuscans is “Mangiafagioli” – bean-eaters. And there are a number of simple preparations to be found. Like fagioli al fiasco, made with as little as just garlic and sage, or fagioli all’Ucelletto, a very simple bean, tomato and herb combination.
The latter was the basis for our Monday meal – and yielded enough for a second full meal, while also taking care of some leftover pumpkin from Halloween.
After soaking a pound of dried kidney beans overnight, I simmered them in a large pot for about an hour, until tender, keeping them in their cooking water as they cooled . You could also drain them, but do keep a couple of cups of the “broth”, which may come in handy when cooking the next part of the preparation.
Phase 2 started by finely chopping a large red onion and a couple cloves of garlic and cooking them in olive oil over medium-low heat, while I diced about ten tomatoes, gradually adding them in with the onions and garlic, as well as a couple of branches of rosemary, a couple of spoonfuls of thyme, and plenty of freshly ground pepper. After the tomatoes melted, I chopped a couple of carrots and diced the pumpkin (about two and a half cups, chopped) and added these in, with a couple of cups of the beans’ cooking broth to have enough liquid to cook the pumpkin well. After about 15 minutes, I added the drained beans and let the stew simmer for about 45 minutes.
As I periodically stirred, I also pressed the pumpkin on the side of the pot to crush them, which helped thicken the stew. If I do this again, I think I’ll boil the pumpkin ahead of time and purée it, so that it mixes in well. You could also do without the pumpkin, of course – the question here was just to use what was left after an excellent soup (with coconut milk, curry and jalapeno peppers) and some muffins that my wife made.
Anyhow, the bean stew, sprinkled with parmesan and served with some freshly-made olive oil bread, was a hit at the table. The taste of herbs was much appreciated as a different take on beans, something more to alternate between the burritos and chili that we also love – just not all the time.