RECIPES: Cooking with beans

Here are some of my favourite recipes for cooking with beans and chickpeas, from a tasty bean dip with goat cheese, to my own Canadian-style cassoulet for a winter feast, a warm, lemony Greek-style salad (made with big, creamy Gigantes beans) and a savoury Spanis tapas dish to share that combines beans or chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) with shrimp and smoked paprika. Plus a primer on the various types of dried beans available, and how to best use them!



WHITE BEAN SLATHER WITH GOAT CHEESE

This is one of my favourite appetizer recipes, a hearty purée of beans, fresh herbs and caramelized onions, to scoop up with pita chips or spread on crostini. You can make it in advance to reheat in the microwave to serve.


one 14-oz (398-mL) can white cannellini beans

1 tablespoon each: finely chopped fresh rosemary, basil and Italian parsley 2 cloves garlic, minced

1⁄4 cup extra virgin olive oil

1⁄2 teaspoons Asian chili paste 1⁄2 cup caramelized onions 1⁄2 cup goat cheese (or feta)


Rinse and drain beans.

In a food processor, combine the rosemary, basil, parsley, garlic, and olive oil. Whirl to purée. Add half the beans and process until smooth. Add the rest of the beans and the chili paste and pulse, leaving the purée a little chunky.

Heat the caramelized onions in a medium sauté pan and add the bean purée. Stir to heat through. Crumble the goat cheese into the pan and fold into the mixture. You want the cheese warm, but still intact in the mixture.

Pile into a serving dish and serve immediately with crostini, pita chips or crackers. Makes 2 cups (500 mL).



CANADIAN CASSOULET

Cassoulet is a dish from the Languedoc region of southern France, and typically includes white beans, pork or lamb shoulder, pork sausage, duck confit and other meats. This version is not strictly authentic, but offers a similarly impressive dish, made with Canadian back bacon, whisky and a touch of maple syrup. I like to use fresh local pork sausage — either sweet Italian or spicy chorizo — and sometimes substitute boneless chicken thighs for the pork in this classic bean casserole. Serve with crusty sourdough and kale salad. For a traditional touch, top this hearty bean dish with confit duck legs from the butcher or supermarket.


Beans:

1 1/2 cups dried Flageolet, navy or other small white beans

1⁄4 lb Canadian back bacon or smoky side bacon, chopped

4 whole cloves garlic, peeled

2 bay leaves 2 sprigs thyme


Sauce:

1 pound boneless pork shoulder (or chicken thighs)

1 tablespoon olive oil ½ pound fresh garlic pork sausage

2 carrots, chopped fine 1 large onion, chopped fine

2 stalks celery, chopped fine 2 cloves garlic, minced

1⁄4 cup rye whisky 1 cup chicken stock 1 cup chopped tomatoes (fresh or canned)

1 tablespoon maple syrup 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

salt and freshly ground black pepper


Topping:

1 cup dry breadcrumbs

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

salt and freshly ground black pepper


Soak beans overnight in cold water or bring beans and water to a full boil, cover, remove from heat and let them quick soak for an hour before cooking.

Drain the soaked beans and return to the pot. Cover with 6 cups of water. Add the bacon, garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until tender, about 1 to 1.5 hours (or pressure cook 20 minutes).

Meanwhile, cut the pork into 1-2-inch pieces, removing any visible fat. In a Dutch oven or large heavy-bottomed pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat and brown the pork pieces. Remove the pork and set aside. In the same pot, brown the sausages. Remove the sausages, slice, and set aside with the pork.

Add the carrots, onions, celery, and minced garlic to the pot and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Pour in the whisky to deglaze, stirring up any browned bits and reduce by half, then add the stock, tomatoes, maple syrup, and rosemary. Bring to a boil, return the browned pork and sausage to the pot, then cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 1 hour or until the meat is tender.

Drain the beans, retaining the cooking liquid. Discard the herbs and bay leaves. Assemble the cassoulet in a deep earthenware casserole dish or heavy enameled roasting pan.

Layer the cooked beans and meat sauce, starting with 1/3 of the beans and 1⁄2 of the sauce, then repeat, ending with a layer of beans. Add enough of the reserved bean liquid to the dish so you can just begin to see it through the top layer of beans (if making ahead, the dish can be prepared to this point, covered, and refrigerated for up to 2 days).

To finish, combine the topping ingredients and sprinkle evenly over the cassoulet. Bake in a preheated 350°F oven for 1 hour until bubbly and nicely browned. Serves 6.

TIP: Any leftover cassoulet makes almost instant Pasta Fazool — just boil 1-2 cups of short pasta until tender, drain (reserve some of the salted cooking water), then stir in the beans and simmer with enough cooking water to make a sauce, and serve topped with shards of Parmesan.


SPICY GARBANZOS WITH GARLIC SHRIMP

This dish reminds me of traveling in Spain and the small, savoury dishes I enjoyed at the tapas bars of San Sebastian. I served this with roasted spaghetti squash and leeks for dinner, but crispy roasted potatoes or toasted baguette, brushed with olive oil, make a classic side, too.

You can substitute a can of white beans for the garbanzos (a.k.a. chickpeas) for equally delicious results.


SHRIMP:

300 g large shrimp, shelled and deveined

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

2 cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press

1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley


GARBANZOS (CHICKPEAS):

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, chopped fine

½ teaspoon crushed dried chilies or Aleppo red pepper flakes (or more to taste)

1 fresh bay leaf

1 ½ cups chopped fresh or canned tomato

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 540-mL tin chickpeas (or white beans), rinsed and drained

½ cup chicken broth

Salt and pepper, to taste


In a bowl, combine the shrimp, olive oil, smoked paprika and garlic and set aside.

In a small oven-proof sauté pan, heat the oil over medium high heat and when it’s sizzling, add the garlic and chilies and cook for 30 seconds. Add bay leaf and tomatoes to the pan and cook until the tomatoes break down, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and stir until it starts to darken, then stir in the chickpeas. Add the broth, bring to a boil, and simmer until the liquid has reduced and the mixture is thickened (crush some of the beans slightly for a thicker sauce). Season with salt, pepper and more chilies, to taste.

Arrange the marinated shrimp in a single layer over the hot chickpeas. Place the pan under a preheated broiler and cook the shrimp for 3-4 minutes, until just pink.

Remove and sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main dish.


WARM GIGANTES BEAN SALAD

I discovered these giant white beans — as big as your thumb — while on a press trip to Greece. Look for them at Greek or Mediterranean grocers, or substitute large cannellini or lima beans. You can also substitute canned white cannellini beans in this Mediterranean salad, but they won’t have the lovely bite of beans cooked from scratch.


1 cup dry gigantes beans (or other large white beans)

2 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1-2 roasted red bell peppers, chopped (jarred is fine)

1/3 cup air-cured black olives, seeded and chopped

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Greek)

Juice and zest of 1/2 a lemon (about 1 teaspoon of minced zest and 2 tablespoons juice)

2 tablespoons basil pesto

salt and freshly ground black pepper

sturdy mixed greens like romaine, kale and arugula, (optional)


Cook the beans. Start by soaking the beans overnight in plenty of cold water or use the quick soak method (cover with water, boil and then set aside for 1 hour). Drain the beans and place them in a saucepan or pressure cooker. Add cold water to cover them by 2-3 inches. Boil until tender (about 1 hour) or pressure cook at high pressure for 12-15 minutes, then allow the pressure to drop naturally (this helps to keep the beans intact). Drain beans well.

While the beans are cooking, combine the chopped tomatoes, roasted peppers, olives, olive oil, lemon zest and juice in a bowl. Stir in the warm beans and pesto. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve as a side dish alongside grilled meats or as a starter with mixed greens. Serves 6.






KNOW YOUR BEANS

If you cook your dried beans from scratch, you'll find a wonderful wealth of contrasting textures and flavours, something you just can't find in the standard canned beans on the market. A pressure cooker is a great way to cook a batch of beans in advance - you'll save a ton of money, too. And cooked beans keep well in the freezer.

Beans come in every shape, size and colour. While many are interchangeable, they do have distinct characteristics. Here’s a primer:


WHITE BEANS

Navy are the smallest while beans — they cook quickly, mash easily and are good for soups, baked beans and creamy dips. Slightly larger Great Northern beans have a nutty flavour and firm texture, good in cassoulet. Cannellinis are even larger, meatier and typically used in minestrone or stews as they retain their shape well. Pale green baby limas or larger butter beans (a.k.a. gigantes) are starchy and buttery, served with herbs for succotash or Greek dishes.


RED BEANS

Red kidney beans are the largest and most common red bean, used in Indian rajma masala curry and three bean salads. Pink Pinto beans, the beans with the most fibre, are preferred for chili, refried beans and Tex-Mex dishes.

Kidney beans or smaller round red beans are often used in Caribbean red beans and rice dishes, simmered with coconut milk, while little Adzuki beans (red with a white stripe) are sweet, nutty and often mashed with sugar for Asian sweet bean pastes and rice cakes.


BLACK BEANS

Like most beans, black beans are native to south and central America, where they may be called turtle beans or frijoles negros. Black beans have an earthy, mushroomy flavour and are served in a range of dishes, including traditional Mexican black bean soup, salads and bean “caviar”. A great foil for spicy chorizo sausage and hot peppers, and perfect to combine with pork or beef in a classic cowboy chili.


PEAS

Black-eyed peas, chickpeas and green or yellow split peas are legumes of a different sort. The former, actually a bean, originated in Africa and are often used in Indian and African dishes, and popular in the southern US, the basis for the classic New Year’s dish, Hoppin’ John. Field peas or cow peas are from the same family of beans. Split peas are literally peas that have been peeled, dried and split – they cook quickly and break down for pea soup or thickening stews and are essential in Indian dal. They may be green or yellow.


GARBANZO BEANS

Chickpeas (a.k.a. garbanzo beans or chana) are round and nutty legumes, popular in Spain, Italy, India and Middle Eastern countries, and delicious to roast as a snack, add to soups and stews and grind for flour or falafels. Canned chickpeas retain their shape and texture well — and are convenient — but try cooking them from scratch. Sweet, creamy and a rich, flavourful revelation!