Using the ole BEAN Trendy legumes are also packed with nutrients

February 03, 1993|By William Rice | William Rice,Contributing Writer/Chicago Tribune

Healthful and hearty food seems to be appropriate fare for this time of year. So today we're paying homage to one of the most welcome food trends of this decade, the growing interest in beans and other legumes.

The range of beans now available in specialty stores, if not all supermarkets, is truly astonishing. Anasazi, talosanos, cranberry and rattlesnake are a few of the names to learn. Try them individually or in the popular bean-soup mixes that may contain combinations of as many as 15 types.

Of course, it should comes as no surprise that the earth has nurtured so many different beans. There is scarcely a cuisine we can label "ethnic" that does not contain a rich repertory of bean dishes. Not only did beans grow in the most arid of lands and the most difficult of climates, they provided essential protein for primitive peoples long before anyone knew what protein was (or amino acids, for that matter). Instinctively, cooks with scant -- if any -- recourse to animal protein combined beans with grains such as rice and with greens and served what we now are told is the diet of the future.

My intent is not to preach the gospel of nutrition. Instead, I'll recommend these dishes because they taste good and are ideal fare to serve on a frosty day. If we eat our fill, we will gain the nutrients as a hidden bonus.

Time has long been an enemy of dried beans. Soaking and cooking can take hours or even overnight. Some quicker methods have been developed for conventional cooking, the microwave can cut preparation time and the pressure cooker can cut it still further. It's also necessary to remember that beans are bland. They need to be cooked attentively so they retain texture and then must be dressed with flavorful, colorful ingredients, and the more the merrier.

Three-bean and arugula salad, the most photogenic of this recipe trio, can be served as part of a help-yourself buffet. The other two should be welcome at casual gatherings or family meals.

Three-bean and arugula party salad

12 to 16 servings.

2 cups black beans

2 cups navy or Great Northern beans

2 cups black-eyed peas

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

L 1 teaspoon sherry wine vinegar (substitute red-wine vinegar)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 shallots, minced

2 red onions, sliced thin

salt and fresh pepper to taste

2 cups arugula or raw spinach leaves

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped parsley for garnish

1. Soak the black beans, navy beans and black-eyed peas separately for 8 hours or overnight.

2. Cook beans in separate pots by package directions. While beans are cooking, make a vinaigrette by combining dry mustard and vinegars and stirring in olive oil.

3. Drain cooked beans, add garlic, shallots, sliced onions, salt and pepper. Dress with the vinaigrette and toss. Set aside 4 hours.

4. Shortly before serving, add arugula and lemon juice to beans. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. Serve from a large bowl garnished with chopped parsley.

White bean and vegetable stew

Makes 4 servings.

1 cup white haricot or Great Northern beans, soaked following package directions

1 pound salt pork

1 large or 3 small turnips, peeled and sliced into rounds

3 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds

1 rib celery, cut into 1 1/4 -inch pieces

1 medium onion stuck with 2 cloves

3 or 4 sprigs parsley

2 branches fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1 large bay leaf

6 peppercorns

2 medium potatoes, sliced

1 large clove garlic, chopped

2 cups beet greens or kale

salt and pepper

4 slices day-old French bread

1. Drain the soaked beans and put them in a large, earthenwar pot or a flameproof casserole. Trim off as much of the layer of fat from the pork as possible and cut the lean meat into 1 1/4 -inch cubes. Add cubes to the beans, then add water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to boil slowly, skimming off scum that rises to the surface.

2. While the water is coming to a boil, dice the fat from the pork and cook over low heat to render the fat. Fry the turnip rounds in the fat until golden brown. When the bean water boils, add the turnips and any crisp pieces of fat, plus the carrots, celery, onion, parsley, thyme, bay leaf and peppercorns.

3. Allow water to return to boil, lower heat, cover the pan and simmer for 1 hour. Add potatoes and garlic. Continue cooking until beans and potatoes are tender. (The stew should be thick, but add hot water as necessary to keep vegetables covered.)

4. In a separate pan, bring water to a boil. Add beet greens and cook for 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well, chop coarsely and add to stew. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Recipe may be done ahead to this point. Reheat before serving.)

5. To serve, place a slice of bread in each of 4 heated soup bowls and ladle the stew over them.

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