Friday, February 12, 2010

What to do with Leftover Beans

In my effort to eat healthier, I’ve been using a lot more beans and legumes in my cooking and a lot less meat. I love cooking with beans: they are so versatile and when prepared correctly, they can be absolutely delicious. And oh yeah, they’re also very, very cheap. Beans are always better when prepared from dry, but let’s face it: most of us don’t have the time or the foresight to soak them for eight hours before a lengthy cooking time. Maybe sometimes we do, but certainly not on your average weeknight. That is why canned beans are a truly inspired invention. They simplify the process of cooking with beans so much, and some of the canned brands are actually quite good. But now here’s a question: what happens when you don’t finish a can? Prepared beans don’t keep for very long, and it always seems difficult to come up with ways of using up small quantities of them. So, what happens to these leftovers? Well, in my kitchen, this happens:
Bean dip! As I said before, beans are wonderfully versatile and wonderfully delicious, and I believe that bean dip is one of the best examples of this. Just about any bean can be made into a dip and in my experience, the results are always satisfying, and yes, healthy! Cooking with beans is not exactly a new idea. You’ll see a variety of these legumes popping up in almost all cuisines, from Italian to Mexican, from Indian to Chinese, and nearly all these national cuisines have some variety of a bean dip.
This particular white bean dip leans toward Italian, but I will not make any claims that it is traditional. I more or less threw it together with items I had around my kitchen, using whatever I thought would taste good. If you include salt and pepper, I only used six ingredients: beans, garlic, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and the aforementioned s and p.

The process is so simple I won’t even bother writing it out as a recipe. This particular time, I used an entire can of beans. I minced up a couple of cloves of garlic and tossed them in my Magic Bullet (use a food processor if you have one … I don’t … a blender would work too) along with the juice of one lemon, a glug of olive oil (a tablespoon or two), the beans, drained and quickly rinsed, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.
Blend it until smooth, adding more olive oil if necessary to get the mixture to a dip-like consistency. You want it to be looser than a paste, but you don’t want to liquefy it. You could add a little more lemon juice to loosen it as well, just be careful about adding too much. Sour bean dip is not usually desirable. Once you have it at the desired consistency, you can start tasting it and adjusting the seasoning. When you’re satisfied, spoon it into a serving bowl and serve it up with pita bread.
Of course, this is just one of many bean dip options. Try black or red kidney beans blended with garlic, cilantro, lime juice, red onion, and a variety of spices, like cumin and coriander. If you have chickpeas (garbanzo beans), make hummus. Be creative, and have fun. Just don’t let those lovely beans go to waste!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Few Reasons Why I Love to Cook

When you’re passionate about something, people often ask you why it is that you love that thing so much. In some ways, this question is impossible to answer since most of the time, if you’re passionate about something, it can’t be explained by a list of concrete reasons. You’re passionate because you are and that sometimes seems like the best explanation. Still, there are usually a few tangible reasons a person can cite to explain why he or she loves what they do. I’ve been asked why I love cooking many times. I have yet to come up with the best way to answer the question, but I do have a few reasons I know are true.
I do, quite simply, enjoy the process. I like to throw onions into a hot skillet and hear them sizzle, see them begin to change color, and smell that unbeatable aroma as they cook. I like to have a pot of sauce simmering gently on the back burner as I work to put together a meal. Also, I like to eat. There’s no doubt about it: putting a delicious piece of food into my mouth is one of my favorite experiences in the whole world. The experience is enhanced tenfold when that delicious bite is something that I created. However, the experience is never as good when I am alone. Eating good food that I have cooked is always better when I get to share it, which brings me to the final reason why I love to cook: sharing food.
I almost never go to someone else’s house without food in hand. I like to show up at the door with something I’ve made to hand over. Maybe it’s a desperate attempt to get people to like me; maybe it’s something to break the ice because that’s generally not something I do well on my own. I also never have anyone in my house without offering them food. If I have time, I’ll plan what I’ll serve my guests, whether it is for a meal, or just a snack. If they show up unexpectedly, I always have something languishing in my pantry or fridge that I can doll up and serve. I do this not because I feel obligated to, but because I love it.
Last night, I shared food with someone I share food with just about every day: Andrew. For no reason other than the fact that it was Saturday night and I felt like it, I made us a four-course romantic dinner. I did it because I love to plan meals, I love to make meals, and I love to share food.
So, want to know what I made?

We started with Sesame Seared Tuna and Yuzu Sweet Soya Sauce.
Then, we moved on to a refreshing Salad of Upland Cress, Fennel, Radicchio, and Pear with Balsamic Vinaigrette.For our main, I made Braised Lamb Shanks with Anchovy and Tomatoes on Semolina Gnocchi.
To finish, we had Lemon Mascarpone Mousse with Honey Wheat Tuiles.

It was downright transcendental. And that is why I love to cook.