2020 : the year of the humble bean?

Autorin: Lisa Zhang

I read somewhere that the year 2020 will be the year of the humble bean: environmentally friendly, rich in nutrients, vegetarian and cheap. Not only are beans all of the above, they are also delicious (when made in the right way) and the perfect comfort food for a stressed-out student. You can always have a back-up bag of dried beans or a can of already cooked beans lying around in the pantry. With a few spices or condiments, you can turn the blandest beans into something sumptuous.

When it comes to beans, I would recommend that you invest in a hand blender in order to turn beans, canned or soaked and boiled (if you have the time) into bean dips, whether it be hummus, or just a pea pesto. You can of course also do the same trick with a fork if you want to have a bit of an arm-workout. Hummus, is incredibly easy to make. Take some ready-cooked chickpeas (approximately two fists or a can), a teaspoon of tahini (or more, if you like your hummus with a lot of tahini), one clove of garlic, lemon, drizzle with olive oil and then blend. This goes incredibly well with both bread and vegetables you can cut into strips – whether it be carrots, cucumber, celery or peppers. My favourite bean dip is a white bean dip with herbs; any herbs will do although my favourite combination is dill and parsley. Whizz the beans, add some lemon, salt and pepper, and then combine with chopped herbs. That is truly delicious!

Cooked bean dishes are equally easy to make. My favourite is to chop some vegetables (imagine something sofrito-like, or what you would have as a soup-base), add tinned tomatoes and beans, let simmer for a while until beans are tender. To give it a middle-eastern touch, you can add cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves or allspice into it. When done, serve with a slice of bread. Easy-peasy, yummy, and healthy! If you want to make it more European, you can sprinkle a herb of your choice on top when serving. Another favourite of mine that is perfect for brunch is to make cannellini beans with onions, spinach, chopped tomatoes and egg. Fry the onions in a pan, add the spinach, tomatoes and beans after the onions have turned golden yellow. Let it simmer for a while until the tomatoes have collapsed. Crack a few eggs on top, put on the lid, and wait until the eggs are ready to your liking – whether you like the egg yolk to be runny or to be a bit firmer.  

A good thing with beans is that if you eat it with rice, you get a full protein meal with all the amino acids your body needs. That is probably why almost all bean-eating cultures have developed bean dishes in tandem with rice – it is a match made in heaven. You can, for instance, try to make a chana masala which is chickpeas in Indian spices or a Mexican black bean stew and have it together with rice. You will not be left disappointed. For chana masala you will have to invest in some spices such as cumin, coriander and chilli. For the simplest version, first you will need to fry the spices until they are aromatic (but be careful not to burn them!), then you add chopped onions and garlic, and when they are cooked, add chopped tomatoes. Stir and let sit for a few minutes. Add cooked chickpeas and wait. When the chickpeas are tender and ready to be eaten, that is when the dish is done.  For something simpler, why not try out a Greek “Louvi me ta Lahana”, just cook black-eyed peas with chard/mangold, squeeze some lemon on top and drizzle olive oil. The Italian Baroque painter Annibale Carraci often drew everyday scenes and one of his paintings, Mangiafagioli, depicts a worker devouring a meal composed of bread and black-eyed peas with glistening eyes. It is a striking image of someone who truly enjoys beans and serves as a reminder that beans, this humble food, have sustained us for centuries, and hopefully will for centuries to come.