The Edgy Veggie

Versatile beans are the little black dress of your kitchen pantry

White beans tossed with escarole, rosemary, lemon and good olive oil can be served as a meatless main course or on crostini as an appetizer.
White beans tossed with escarole, rosemary, lemon and good olive oil can be served as a meatless main course or on crostini as an appetizer. For the Miami Herald

Things are looking up. We’ve moved on from 2015, the International Year of Soils — so declared by the United Nations — to 2016, the International Year of Pulses.

That’s beans, aka legumes, to you and me.

No matter what you call them, beans are the best new year investment you can make: They’re cheap, sustainable, pantry-friendly, and protein- and fiber-rich. You owe it to yourself — not to mention the United Nations — to show some legume love, and you’re just in time.

Wednesday is Pulse Feast: the day the International Year of Pulses people want bean-eating to go global and viral.

Make the bean-and-flatulence jokes if you must. Preparing beans right means no gastric distress.

Whether you’re slow- or pressure-cooking dried beans or opening a can of prepared beans, ramp them up with herbs and spices. Thyme, rosemary dill, epazote, fennel, turmeric, cumin, ginger and others not only make for snappier or more sultry beans, they’re known as carminatives, age-old flatulence cures that work their natural calming magic in your digestive tract.

Ease into the new year pulse experience with white beans. Be they familiar friends like cannellini, great northern or navy beans or heirlooms like alubia blanca or tarbais (the French favorite for cassoulet), white beans provide a fluffy texture and mild flavor, so they’re ideal carriers for seasonings. Go bold by stirring in pesto or tapenade, keep it mellow with a chiffonade of fresh herbs and perhaps a splash of white wine.

The goodness of beans starts long before they reach your table, when they’re still growing in the field. Their roots set nitrogen in the soil, enriching it, making it more fertile, which is why beans are often used as cover crops.

Beans take less water to grow and emit far fewer greenhouse gases than meat production and yet these plant-based protein sources have a satisfying, almost meaty chew. From classic Cuban black beans to soulful New Orleans red beans and rice to spiced-up Indian dal, every culture has a bean recipe that fills the belly and stretches the budget. They’re the most versatile thing in your kitchen, the little black dress of cuisine.

There are dozens of bean varieties and a whole new year to explore them all. Happy 2016. Happy Pulse Feast. Now, let’s keep the pulse party going.

Ellen Kanner: @edgyveggie1

Escarole and White Beans with Lemon and Rosemary

Recipe by Ellen Kanner. White beans and escarole are a classic Italian pairing, with the creamy beans taming the slight bitterness of the escarole. The two often wind up in a soup together. Here they are combined for a meatless main course to serve with salad and crusty bread. Or toss with pasta. Or make into a satisfying starter by spooning on top of crostini. However you like your beans, the recipe produces big Tuscan flavor fast. Try your local farmers market as your source for the freshest, most-tender escarole.

2 tablespoons very good olive oil

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)

4 1/2 cups cooked cannellini or other white beans (1 pound dried beans, cooked, or two 15-ounce cans, rinsed and drained)

Zest and juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons of juice)

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves (from 2 or 3 sprigs of rosemary), chopped fine

1/2 cup vegetable broth or white wine

1 head escarole, rinsed and blotted dry, leaves torn or chopped into bite-size pieces

Sea salt to taste

Small handful pine nuts, toasted for garnish, optional

Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Stir in red pepper flakes and minced garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the garlic becomes soft and golden. Add the beans and stir.

Add lemon zest and juice, chopped rosemary, vegetable broth or wine. Gently stir in escarole, which will start to wilt from the heat of the beans. Bring everything to a simmer, giving an occasional stir. Cook for about 20 minutes or until escarole starts to soften but keeps its frill and color and the beans are heated through.

Season with sea salt to taste, scatter toasted pine nuts on top, if using, and serve.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

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