Pack your pantry with a handful of staples, a few varieties of beans, some herbs, spices, and Crescent Dragonwagon's latest cookbook Bean by Bean, and you will eat well for weeks. There is almost no other shelf-stable ingredient as packed with nutrition, fiber and fill-your-belly flavor like beans. And there aren't many cookbooks that pack so many useful recipes into so few pages.
Nearly 200 recipes pack the pages of Bean by Bean including everything from Harira, a North African soup used to break the fast each night during Ramadan, Caldo Verde, a garlicky stew packed with chorizo, potatoes, white beans, and kale from Portugal, and Socca, the chickpea flatbread from France. There are even desserts, such as red bean ice cream and peanut butter cup brownies. While Dragonwagon cautions against using canned beans, due to their price, lack of flavor and higher environmental cost, most recipes include the bean quantities for both dried and canned beans.
The book includes other bean basics, like how to shop for, store and de-gassify beans. There are quick-cooking tricks for beans and tips on how to freeze beans. Throughout the chapters on appetizers, soups, salads, casseroles, stews and curries, and desserts, there are menu suggestions, plus vegetarian alternatives and substitutions for recipes that call for meat. While most recipes are for bean dishes, there are also recipes for things like tofu mayonnaise, roasted vegetables, cornbread, dipping sauces, and salad dressings.
Bean by Bean is more than just a cookbook. Dragonwagon, author of seven other cookbooks, including a James Beard award winner, is also a writing instructor. The book is peppered with bits of history and anecdotes, like the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis 25, and a bowl of lentil soup. Recipe headnotes give background on the origins of a dish or how Dragonwagon adapted a classic recipe.
The index includes a handy chart of "Basic Beanery," with origins and characteristics, soaking and cooking times, availability, substitutes, and usage for a couple dozen varieties of beans, lentils and legumes. It'd be a handy chart to photocopy and tack inside your pantry, which, after reading this book, may very soon be packed with beans.
Crescent Dragonwagon will be in Seattle in March. Meet her at Book Larder for a free book signing on Saturday March 11 from 11 a.m.-12 p.m. She'll talk beans and share stories from her amazing career in food and writing. There will also be dishes from the book to sample.