how to make the best beans with a secret ingredient

When it comes to quarantine cooking, pantry staples like beans get a lot of play. But how do you make them taste better? Here’s an incredibly simple and ingenious tip for the best beans you’ll ever eat, straight from Mokonuts in Paris. And you don’t even need stock or broth; water will do. Plus, you end up with a bonus ingredient to use the next day.

Having lived in Paris for almost five years, I have grown to truly appreciate eating, good cooking, and the people who make up the food community. With the French government-mandated lockdown and closures of non-essential businesses in mid-March, it has been a weird few weeks. As one does during times of crisis, I turned to food for comfort. But quickly, what once brought me comfort turned to stress. With limited ingredients and opportunities to run for groceries, even as a seasoned cook, it was hard for me to see so many difficult and over-the-top recipes being splashed across the Internet. Curious, I turned to chefs I champion to see how they are cooking under a lockdown. These are their tips, recipes, and stories. First up, how to make beans the Mokonuts way.

If you’ve ever had the joy of eating at Mokonuts, you know that the food made by chef duo Moko Hirayama and Omar Koreitem tastes like a hug. I have eaten at Mokonuts often, having lived a street away when they first opened, and I am constantly amazed at what they come up with: never pretentious yet sophisticated dishes, blending flavors that shape up their identities. Mokonuts is truly a family affair and you’ll often see their two girls hanging around, frequently doodling on parchment paper or double checking how your takeout cookie orders are wrapped up. I remember once asking the eldest what she ate at home and she said, “Food like this,” while pointing at the restaurant’s open kitchen.

Mokonuts Paris

In the kitchen at Mokonuts, image courtesy of Eileen Cho

Whenever I prepare lentils and chickpeas at home, I always remember Mokonuts’ newly opened sister restaurant Mokoloco’s hearty lentil soup or Mokonuts’ soft cooked egg with chickpeas because my legumes will never taste that good. (Or so I thought.)

With the lockdown in place, I had to know for the greater good: How do they prepare them and can it be replicated at home?

Secret’s in the Sofrito

Omar responded: “I actually have a very good trick for making it tasty. It’s the base for pretty much any dried legume preparation at the restaurant and it is extremely easy to make.

We generally make sofrito as a flavor base for these kinds of preparations. This is how we give depth of flavor to our legumes even if we do not use any stock for cooking but water.

Sofrito could be many things, but at Mokonuts we slowly confit lots of diced onions in a lot of olive oil for 4 to 5 hours. They should be confited, but not burnt, and should end up looking like sun-dried raisins. The result is an aromatic and pungent purée of onions that is packed with flavor. This onion preparation is then used as a base for the legume cooking liquid.”

slow cooker bacon compote recipe


Omar continued: “The oil used for sofrito should not be discarded either; it can be reused to make another batch or used for making a vinaigrette or [for] cooking.

Personally I like to eat my stewed beans/chickpeas with a fried egg and good quality canned tuna, salted anchovies, or shaved bottarga.

Another thing: Cooked legumes, if kept in their cooking liquid, will always taste better the next day.”

Related Reading: How to Cook with Food Scraps to Fight Food Waste

So, to have Moko and Omar’s magic touch, all you need are legumes (dried or canned), olive oil, and onions. And you get a flavorful byproduct you can use in another meal too. To me, well-prepared beans are like a blank canvas—there are just so many things you can do with them. Like Omar, I’ll try it with a fried egg and salted anchovies for an easy and stress-free meal under lockdown as we ride this pandemic out.

Related Video: How Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo Makes Dried Beans

Header image courtesy of Westend61 / Getty Images

Eileen W. Cho is a Seoul-born, Korean American journalist and photographer based primarily in Paris, France.
See more articles