Monday, March 16, 2009

The Joy of Beans

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart,
The more you eat, the more you …

Oh, all right, I won’t go there. Lucky for you, it is not this negative side effect of eating beans that I wanted to focus on. I was hoping to talk a little more about what I believe are the top three reasons why beans should become a regular part of your diet:

1. They are hella good for you.
2. They are hella cheap.
3. There are about a million and one ways to prepare them, so they can also be hella delicious.

I can understand if you’re not usually a bean kind of person, and that the whole legume family might seem a little bland, and just no match for a decadent steak dinner. Sure, they’re totally different, but if done right, I think they can be equally satisfying. The great thing about beans is that they are so versatile, and lend themselves so well to experimentation.
I made this bean stew using a recipe from a CIA cookbook as a jumping-off point, but changed a few things around to suit my tastes, and to use what I already had on hand.

Start with some diced up veggies—I used carrot, celery, onion, garlic, and tomato—and sauté in some olive oil.
Now, throw in some seasoning. Indian spices pair beautifully with beans, so I used some curry powder and some ground cumin. Stir them in and cook for a minute or two until it’s really aromatic.

Now, add your beans. I used canned garbanzo beans and light red kidney beans, but pinto beans, black beans, and cannellini beans, to name a few options, would all be delicious in here. If you’re using canned beans, don’t forget to drain and rinse first. I also added a chopped red bell pepper and some vegetable stock and brought it up to a simmer.
I covered it and let it simmer for about half an hour. Once you’re ready to serve, taste it and season with salt and pepper. I used very little salt, but quite a bit of pepper. Then, I threw in some chopped parsley, cilantro, and mint. The herbs added a delicious brightness to the dish, definitely worth getting fresh herbs for.

I served the stew with rice seasoned with lemon and cilantro, and it was a delicious, nutritious, completely satisfying and inexpensive meal.

Three Bean Stew
Adapted from the Culinary Institute of America’s From Our Kitchens
Serves 4

2 tsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (use canned when tomatoes are out of season)
1 tbsp. curry powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 cup canned kidney beans (drained and rinsed), or dried (cooked and drained)
1 cup canned garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed), or dried (cooked and drained)
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup diced bell pepper
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp. chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp. chopped fresh mint
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, celery, and carrots and sauté, stirring from time to time, until onion is light golden, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Add tomatoes and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Add curry and cumin and sauté 2 minutes.

Add beans, broth, and bell pepper. Increase heat to high and bring liquid to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. Check occasionally and extra broth if necessary to keep the stew moist.

Stir in parley, cilantro, and mint. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve.

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