— a pandemic pantry post —
“BEANS,” SAID A NEW YORK TIMES REPORTER, IN A RECENT TWEET, “ARE HAVING A MOMENT. “
SHE THEN ADDED, “… FOR HORRIBLE REASONS.”
THOSE REASONS, OF COURSE, ARE THE CORONAVIRUS, WHICH HAS HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF US THINKING ABOUT HOW TO STOCK PANDEMIC-PROOF PANTRIES…AND WHAT TO DO WITH THE INGREDIENTS WE’VE STOCKED.
I BRING YOU A QUICK POST FEATURING ONE OF MY FAVORITE INGREDIENTS, BEANS. BECAUSE THEY ARE NON-PERISHABLE, NUTRITIOUS, AND CHEAP, THEY BELONG IN SAID PANTRY.
HOWEVER, THEY ARE ALSO DELICIOUS.
I know this about beans (also called legumes and pulses) as I should, having written not just one but two books about them. And I also know they are there for us in good times and bad.
Beans belong in every pantry, every day. Not just when times are tough — when you are on low on cash, or you need healthy foodstuffs that will last without refrigeration. But because they are a life-affirmative food, so very good when prepared with a little care. A life-affirming ingredient if there ever was one, each bean is after all a seed, containing a replica of itself: if you planted it instead of ate it, it would become a plant and, obligingly, give you many more beans.
But let us, for now, assume you are going to eat those beans.
I promise you: beans are as much for pleasure as they are for pandemic.
TWO BLACK-EYED-PEA STEWS
In the week between Christmas and New Years, I annually re-post what I consider a couple of the best ways to eat black-eyed peas for New Years’ Day. Because, it’s said, especially in the American South, that to do so, on that day, is to insure good luck for the coming year. Though God knows we could all use a heap of luck now, it’s not New Years, so I can’t point you to that extra dose of auspicious good luck.
But I guarantee you, that if you have a pantry full of beans, and you make my SPICY-SMOKY-EAST-WEST BLACK-EYED PEAS, you will feel mighty fortunate come dinner time.
Maybe just for that day, that meal, that moment with the roof over your head and satisfaction in your belly: but as crises and loss always teach us, now is all we ever have, really, anyway.
The eastern element is, surprisingly, miso… the western, chipotle and just about everything else. The odd-ish-seeming ingredients are packed with umami savor. I promise, you and those you are feeding will swoon over it. Serve it with DAIRY HOLLOW HOUSE SKILLET-SIZZLED CORNBREAD, and, honey, you have dined.
A related oh-this-is-SO-good sense of wellbeing will also overwhelm you, assuming you enjoy somewhat spicy and exotic flavors, with your first bite of my TANZANIAN BLACK-EYED PEA & COCONUT SOUP WITH BANANAS (If you’re wondering how something can be both “my” and Tanzanian, the answer is I looked over half a dozen or so recipes, cobbled together my favorite elements of each, omitted the traditional meat, cut back on what I deemed excessive fat – dear knows, this is plenty rich). Its unlikely-sounding combination will knock your socks off. You might doubt me when you read the ingredient list, but I promise you, this gets better and better with every bite, and is a meal in itself.
P.S., the lovely and cogent food editor Addie Broyles did it the honor of featuring it as the New Year’s recipe one year in her column in the Austin-American Statesman, and it also drew raves from Culinary Cheapskate: “It’s FANTASTIC. Assuming you stick with coconut oil or some other kind vegetable-derived oil, it’s vegan, but it’s one of those dishes that’s so rich and delicious, a devoted carnivore would never miss the meat. ”
LENTILS: A FAMED SOUP
Who makes a soup, the same soup — my GREEK LENTIL SOUP WITH SPINACH AND LEMON — and eats it, hundreds of time? Reid Branson of Seattle, that’s who, and I would never have known it had he not written me a fan-email a few years back, which I wrote about right here.
But this charming story of lentil devotion deserved to go further, and that is what Joe Yonan, the food editor of the Washington Post and a fellow legumaniac, the author of the just-published and excellent Cool Beans, gave it, with this story.
Well, the soup, zinged with loads of fresh lemon and little crunchy surprises of coriander seeds, bright with orange-y butternut squash and fresh spinach added towards the end, has quickly gained tens of thousands of fans.
And so has Reid, the most unassuming of guys (he swears he doesn’t regret sending me that fan letter, “though I think I’m about as famous as I want to be for lentil soup”). Indeed, he pooh-poohs the idea of having fans.
But he’s a nurse, in charge of an HIV clinic at a large public hospital in Seattle, the city that was the first American epicenter of coronavirus cases. His ward is full of high-risk, immunosuppressed patients. You take a man who is calm and stable enough to make the same soup for lunch every day for years; a man who is, okay, quirky enough also to do this, and to write the soup’s author, all while treating very ill patients in the midst of an epidemic… Reid is a hero for our times.
I know that is going to embarrass him when he reads it. But as I mentioned to him, in an exchange we had on Facebook, he is still doing his work as a nurse in all this, merely extending it, by bringing comfort and well-being to so many people, both through his story, and this soup.
Which, though simple, really is all that.
A SUBLIME SALAD, AND MJEDDRAH
While we are on the topic of lentils, let me point you towards this article, too, by Joe Bonwich of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, called “Lentils for Lent.”
He interviewed me when my book Bean by Bean first came out, and in his story, chose four recipes from it, including a really fine Marinated Lentil Salad and Mjeddrah, a Middle Eastern lentil-and-rice pilaf.
Unfancy, and simple to make, Mjeddrah is beloved throughout that part of the world. The only fresh vegetables it calls for are onion, carrot, celery, and garlic; outside of that, it’s just lentils, rice and spices.This is a dish perfect for a time of limited access to ingredients, yet it does not smack of deprivation but rather pure, satisfying pleasure. Once you’ve tried it, Mjeddrah’s unpretentious goodness will make you yearn for it until you fix it again.
So again, check Joe B’s article for these recipes.
“THE QUEEN OF BEAN CUISINE”
But my favorite post-Bean by Bean story has to be this one, written by Sheryl Julian, the now-retired food editor of the Boston Globe. Because how can you not be delighted by a writer who not only designates you as such but actually traipses all the way up from Boston to Vermont (where I then lived) in the middle of mud season, just to talk beans with you? And who actually takes the time to interview your colleagues about you?
I reread the article because I remembered it, too, had several recipes attached to it. And so it does, five of them: my Rose of Persia Cake (its secret; buttery chickpea flour, and rosewater, and pistachios); my vegetarian chile mole; the Skillet-Sizzled Buttermilk Cornbread; a silken tofu-based Dip a la Russe, and my Beans and Greens Pasta, which I eat probably at least once a week. Alas, however, these recipes are behind a pay-wall (and though I say “alas” I frankly can’t blame any newspaper for charging for good content which after all is costly to produce). Still, it is a pain at moments like this, when I wanted a simple, quick, down-and-dirty way to share some Pandemic Pantry-friendly recipes with you without having to re-keyboard them in.
But I’m leaving the story anyway, because 1) Sheryl did such a fabulous and witty yet substantial job with it, and 2) you can get ideas just from her descriptions of the dishes I served her, and 3) some of you may already be subscribers to the Boston Globe, or want to become same.
I am going to leave the recipe title above in place, and as I keyboard them in, I will hyperlink them, meaning they’ll be right here, and pay-wall free.
ME AND CAMELLIA AND OH-MY-THAT-RAGOUT
Back in 2016, Camellia Beans did a story on me and featured three of my recipes (even though I’m vegetarian, they did meat options on two of them, because… their readership).
Here are the recipes:
Ragout of Shiitake Mushroom, Butterbeans, & Southern Greens . This is just MADE to be served as pictured, over polenta / grits, which, even though they are not a bean, are an item PERFECTO for the #pandemicpantry. So I went ahead and updated an old post I wrote on the magical and easy way I do polenta, which is to bake it in the oven… here you are.
Brunswick Stew (their meatist version of my vegetarian recipe)
Ruth’s Country-Style Butter-Bean, Green Bean & Potato Soup. The Ruth mentioned here, BTW, was the late Ruth Eichor. As some of you may know, in my non-food-writing life I also write for children, and I dedicated my book Home Place to her, long ago. In that self (children’s book writer self) I am also reading one book aloud on Facebook each night during the pandemic. Here is the link to me reading Home Place.
Ah, I am blowing a kiss up into the air to long-departed Ruth, with my thanks and love. She was one of two or three elders who truly bonded me with Eureka Springs, Arkansas, the funny little Ozark town I lived in for so long.
And now back to beans.
MY ‘IMPOSSIBLY GOOD’ VEGGIE BURGER
So you say you’re tired of soups and stews and moist-things-that-cook in a pot? Here’s another way the bean just goes on giving — my veggie burgers. These are sooooo much tastier than the Impossible Burgers, as I discuss in the linked post.
Now, in the case of these veggie burgers, unlike mjeddrah, there are some ingredients you might or might not have in your Plentiful Pandemic Pantry. I shortcut using canned refried beans (I prefer Amy’s Traditional); but you can make those from dry beans without much fuss. And there are a few fridged exotics: shiitake mushrooms, smoky tempeh strips.
There are a couple of ways I can see around this potential I-don’t-have-it-on-handand-I’m-self-isolating difficulty. 1) Make a batch or two of these sooner rather than later, and freeze them, all burgered up. Or, if you get a burger hankering and can’t get to the store, 2), improvise. If you’ve stocked your pantry and fridge as I suggest, you’ll probably have both dried and frozen shiitakes, and perhaps some extra tempeh strips stashed in the freezer.
This post, as you can see, is basically an introduction to several of my bean-centric recipes, some on this blog, some scattered around the net. I will add more to it as I can, but I wanted to get this out ASAP, and now I want to get to work on that Plentiful Pandemic Pantry list you see above — when I have it hyperlinked, you’ll be the first to know.
So I will wrap this up, for the present, where we started: with the questions of beans, luck, and how much our species could use some luck at this particular moment.
Actually, legumes of all kinds, not just black-eyed peas, are considered auspicious at times of re-commencement, like the New Year. While some cultures hold that each bean represents a coin, thus symbolically bringing wealth, others point out that the bean is a seed.
Which, of course, it is — if you plant a bean instead of cook it, you’ll get a bean plant, from which you can harvest many beans.
I relate to this origin-concept of beans as luck-bringers more wholeheartedly than the coinage trope. For money comes and goes. But seeds? Seeds remind the eater of new life and new beginnings. We might in winter, be eating dried beans; but come spring, we can plant, and grown, and harvest those same bean varieties, and live through another winter.
And that, I think, is a reminder we could all use at this moment.
The recipes in this story are from “Bean By Bean: A Cookbook: More than 175 Recipes for Fresh Beans, Dried Beans, Cool Beans, Hot Beans, Savory Beans, Even Sweet Beans!” (Workman, $17.95)
Crescent is the James Beard Award-winning author of eight published cookbooks. She is also a Google “culinary celebrity”, answering the week’s most Googled cooking questions with short videos, such as this one.