Of all the ingredients in the world, we’d wager that beans certainly aren’t the most glamorous. But Joe Yonan, the food and travel editor for The Washington Post, has made beans dazzling in his new cookbook, “Cool Beans.” Here, Joe showcases over 100 recipes for this plant-based protein, mostly eschewing the tinny canned stuff for the more flavorful dried variety.
Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World's Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, $14.99 on Amazon
After all, his recipes don’t simply rely on opening up a can of beans. Instead, Joe instructs on the process (and benefit) of soaking beans overnight (which helps to remove those indigestible sugars that produce that, dare we say, musicality associated with beans, and which Joe further elaborates on below), the many techniques of cooking and preparing beans, and harnessing the power of aquafaba—that liquid in a can of chickpeas or beans that you often pour down the sink.
Related Reading: How to Cook the Perfect Pot of Beans
Recipes, expectedly, put beans in the spotlight, but showcase them in tons of ways that will actually make you want to cook beans for every meal. You can make garlicky gigante bean spread, black bean sopes crowned with black bean puree and crumbled feta, and roasted tomato and pepper soup, swirled with bean cooking liquid and lady cream peas.
Don’t believe us when we say beans are cool? Test out Joe’s recipe for Nigerian black-eyed peas and plantains, a thick stew bound by soft black-eyed peas, canned tomatoes, and an assortment of spices, like Scotch bonnet chile pepper and selim (the seeds of a shrubby tree found in Africa). The almost meat-like stew is topped with coin-shaped plantains, fried until crisp on the outside, yet still soft on the inside, and served with a side of rice. Sounds pretty cool to us.
Reprinted with permission from Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, with 125 Recipes by Joe Yonan, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
Let the Music Play
“The more you eat, the more you toot,” goes the childhood rhyme about the “magical” (or “musical,” depending I guess on where you grew up) fruit. But this was no anti-legume screed; the next line, again with regional variations, goes something like, “The more you toot, the better you feel, so let’s have beans at every meal.”
First, let’s acknowledge that it’s impossible to talk about beans without talking about farting. Beans earned their magical/musical reputation the hard way: through repetition. Noisy, sometimes smelly repetition.
Why do beans cause flatulence? Blame it on the oligosaccharides, certain carbohydrates in beans for which we don’t have the enzymes to process, so they accumulate in the lower intestine, where our gut bacteria feed on them, fermenting them and releasing gas in the process. But it’s not just beans: any high-fiber diet, especially when it’s first adopted, can result in increased gas.
But what if you are particularly sensitive—or prone to embarrassment? Can you cut down on beans’ musicality? Yes, you can. Here are some tips:
- If you’re just starting to add beans to your diet with any regularity, stick with it. One 2011 study in Nutrition Journal showed that while half the participants reported experiencing more flatulence in the first week of adding 1/2 cup of beans a day to their diet, almost three-quarters of those said the symptoms dissipated by the second or third week.
- Try a variety of beans to see which you tolerate best. The Nutrition Journal study showed remarkable variance in individual responses to different types of beans. Canned beans typically have the lowest levels of oligosaccharides because of the processing, so that’s a good place to start.
- Soak your beans overnight in water, discard the water, and use a pressure cooker. A 2009 study in LWT–Food Science and Technology found that this combination reduced the oligosaccharides by 75 to 80 percent. The reduction was even higher when baking soda was added to the soaking water, according to a 1985 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, but that also results in some loss of B vitamins. In fact, all soaking results in the loss of some nutrients, so be aware of that trade-off.
- Cook beans with kombu, which has long been purported to help with the digestion of beans. There is a scientific basis for this: kombu (Saccharina japonica) is indeed among the marine algae that contain alpha-galactosidase, the same enzyme we lack that’s required for breaking down the oligosaccharides. Other traditional additions that purportedly help with digestion include the Mexican herb epazote and the Indian powder asafoetida (also known as hing or heeng). Cumin and ginger, too.
- Try a commercial product such as Beano, which also uses the enzyme alpha-galactosidase to help digest the oligosaccharides in beans. Research has proven its effectiveness.
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I happen to believe that beans are so healthful we shouldn’t let fear of farting get in the way of our enjoying them. Some researchers, such as Harold McGee, say that since the oligosaccharides are feeding our bacteria, they themselves are part of what makes beans good for us.
Just make a joke of it—or a song.
Nigerian Stewed Black-Eyed Peas and Plantains (Ewa Riro and Dodo) Recipe
This is my favorite order at African restaurants, where my husband (who doesn’t like black-eyed peas) always gets chicken. More for me! The first time I made this dish of stewed beans (ewa riro), after scouring the internet and cookbooks for recipes, my version tasted plain compared to what I had eaten, so I turned to Ozoz Sokoh, who writes The Kitchen Butterfly blog from her home in Lagos. She turned me on to grains of selim, also known as African pepper, Negro pepper, and Guinea pepper, which add a mysterious muskiness and more of the depth some traditional recipes accomplish with smoked turkey or dried crawfish. I got an in-person lesson from Oyin Akinkugbe, owner of DC’s ZK Lounge and West African Grill. Her most emphatic points: make sure the beans are cooked until they are very tender and be generous with the palm oil, which lends the dish an earthy flavor and reddish color. Serve with fried ripe plantains (dodo) and rice.
Note: To prepare the grains of selim, toast 8 pods in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant and smoking, about 1 minute per side. Let cool briefly, then break apart by hand, discard the shiny seeds (which are bitter), and grind the pods in a dedicated spice grinder.
Nigerian Stewed Black-Eyed Peas and Plantains (Ewa Riro and Dodo)
- 1 large yellow or red onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
- 1 1/2 cups dried black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and drained
- 1 (3 by 5-inch) strip kombu (dried seaweed; optional)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 small tomato, chopped, or 1/2 cup canned pureed tomatoes
- 1/2 to 1 Scotch bonnet chile pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- 1/4 cup palm oil
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground grains of selim (see Note; optional)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 2 ripe plantains (yellow with plenty of black spots)
- Safflower, grapeseed, or other neutral vegetable oil, for frying
- Combine 1/2 cup of the onion with the black-eyed peas, kombu, and bay leaf in a stovetop or electric pressure cooker and add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to high pressure and cook for 20 minutes, then turn off and let the pressure release naturally. The black-eyed peas should be very soft. Open the pressure cooker and cook on medium-high heat, stirring frequently to prevent scorching, to reduce the liquid until it is thick and creamy, about 20 minutes.
- While the black-eyed peas are cooking, combine 1 cup of the remaining onion with the bell pepper, tomato, and Scotch bonnet (using more or less depending on your appetite for heat) in a blender and puree until smooth.
- Scoop the palm oil into a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it melts and starts to shimmer, add the remaining 1/2 cup onion and sauté until tender, about 6 minutes. Stir in the cayenne, grains of selim, if desired, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour in the pureed bell pepper mixture, reduce the heat to low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces, darkens, and loses its raw edge, about 20 minutes.
- When the black-eyed peas are ready, add them to the sauce in the skillet with a little water if needed to loosen the mixture. Stir to combine and cook until the flavors meld, 3 to 4 minutes. Taste and add more salt if needed. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
- To make the plantains, line a plate with paper towels. Peel the plantains by using a paring knife to slash a shallow cut down the length of each plantain, then remove the peel. Cut them in half lengthwise, then into 3/4-inch half-moons or cut on the bias into ¾-inch slices. Sprinkle the plantains with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt.
- Pour the oil to a depth of 1/2 inch into a large skillet set over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the plantains (working in batches, if necessary, to avoid overcrowding) and fry until browned on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes, then use tongs to turn them over and cook until browned on the second side, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer them to a paper-towel-lined plate.
- To serve, divide the beans among shallow bowls and tuck the plantains on one side. Serve hot, with rice.
Header image by Aubrie Pick © 2020