April Cookbook Review: Bean by Bean

By Sarah Strauss


One of the foods that I consider to be the most wholesome, the most genuine, the most earnest, is the mighty little bean.  I realize I am waxing poetic here, but in all seriousness, the humble bean has a lot going for it.  Beans are easily stored, inexpensive, and come in different shapes, sizes and such pretty colors.  Culturally ancient, and comfortably imbedded in nearly all cuisines – they are tiny, yet protein powerful, and beans can be prepared and enjoyed in so many ways.

Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon, is the book responsible for my current feelings about beans.  Before testing recipes for this review, I might have shrugged off the intrepid little bean with some offhand comment about how healthy they are or something.  I’ll admit, I took them for granted.  But no more.

One of the features that I love so much about this book is the recipe tagging system explained in the introduction.  Each recipe has a tag on it, denoting the suitability for vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free and meat eaters.  Within a single recipe, there may be meat or meatless versions offered.  I believe there is a recipe for possibly everyone collected within these pages.

Another feature is that many of the recipes are made up of other recipes.  For example, to make the truly towering and brightly flavored 7-Layer Tex-Mex Mountain dip, you first make the Refried Beans Vegetariana (with a “meatist” option).  And it is true, once you make refried beans from scratch, you will probably never ever go back to the canned stuff.

Like the United Nations of Beans, all legumes are represented; dried beans, fresh beans, bean sprouts, lentils, peas (green, chick and split) and even peanuts, making the span of the recipes cover, quite literally, from soup to nuts.  With a few sweet bean dessert dishes thrown in as well.

More of those recipes within recipes were the Dragon-Style Dan-Dan Noodles, spicy from the Dan-Dan Peanut Dressing and savory from the nuggets of Oven Baked Tofu, with the Traditional Asian-Style Marinade.  These slurpy bean sprouts and noodles were light, refreshing and completely addictive.  The Classic Green Chile Stew, which used New Mexico-style Green Chile Sauce and Genie’s Mother’s Beans for Chili was verdant and warm in our winter weary bellies.  The Black Bean and Sweet Potato Salad with Honey Cilantro Vinaigrette will be certainly reappearing at our barbeques this summer.

We especially loved the Hotcha-Gotcha Sweet Smoky Cocktail Peanuts, I’m snacking on them right now, dusting my fingers off as I type.  And I cannot fail to mention the Nigerian Seed-Thickened Beef & Shrimp Soup Stew, or Egusi, which, despite the complex sounding title, was unbelievably good, thick and hearty.  The Turkey, Wild Rice and Rattlesnake Bean Soup was another stand-out, sturdy enough for a meal all by itself, no sides needed.

In my newfound zeal, I buy beans now for the color, shape, or the novelty of a new variety.  They wait in my cupboards, in gleaming glass mason jars, calling for me to take them out to play.

“Bean by Bean” by Crescent Dragonwagon.  Published by Workman Publishing Co., 2011.  370 pages.