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Using the old bean - Vegan Cooking Tips

Doesn't it always seem as if you have either leftover cooked beans in the refrigerator or extra cans of beans staring out at you from the pantry? Cooked or canned beans are certainly edible in their natural state. But this can get so boring!

I can't think of a cuisine on earth that doesn't have some bean dishes. Cuban black beans and rice, Indian chana masala (spicy garbanzo beans), Middle Eastern hummus and falafel, Italian pasta fagiole (pasta and bean soup), French cassoulet (slowly simmered lima beans with tomatoes and onions), ... The list goes on.

But, you say, I don't want to spend an hour preparing one dish. I want it savory, I want it international, and I want it now! No problem. We can make your kitchen an international beanery in no time.

First, we've got to discuss the beans. Dried beans are the most economical, but take the most time to cook. If you like to prepare cooked beans, we suggest you make a big enough batch so you've got several meals' worth. Cooked beans will store in the refrigerator for up to five days. If you're looking to prepare beans close to eating time, we suggest lentils. They don't have to soak, and about 2 cups of dried lentils will yield about 3 1/2 cups of cooked lentils in about 1 hour.

If you would like to cook dried white, red, or kidney beans, garbanzos or black beans, or black-eyed peas, we suggest the overnight, all-day method. Soak beans overnight. The next day, discard the soaking water, rinse, and let them cook in a crock-pot all day. When you come home, the beans will be waiting for you.

In between dried beans and canned beans are frozen beans. We've had good luck with frozen black-eyed peas and edamame (young soybeans). Frozen beans can be cooked or microwaved in a matter of minutes. Using frozen beans may cut down on leftovers, as you can cook the amount of beans you want very quickly.

Canned beans have good texture and flavor. If you're worried about your sodium intake, look for low-sodium beans or rinse them. So far, we've found the following canned beans: garbanzos, lentils, black beans, kidney beans, split peas, white beans, green and black soybeans, vegan baked beans, pink beans, and black-eyed peas.

You need only two types of beans to go international: garbanzos and white beans (also called Great or small Northern beans). More would be nice, but not necessary. Heat up a cup of white beans with a little bit of fresh garlic (you can purchase already-minced garlic and store it in the refrigerator), lemon juice, and parsley, and you've got Mediterranean-style beans. Mash white beans with a small amount of oil, white pepper, and chili powder, and you've got Latin-American-style beans. Toss garbanzos with some chopped onion, garlic, and shredded basil, and you've got Italian-accented beans. You get the picture. Below are some more ideas. Unless noted, you can use either white beans or garbanzos. By the way, if you have lots of leftovers, you can freeze them in an airtight container.


Italian: Toss lightly with tomato sauce, minced garlic or garlic powder (be careful, since garlic "grows" in power as it's heated), dried red pepper flakes, and chopped fresh or dried basil.

Greek: Toss very lightly with olive oil, chopped fresh parsley, and chopped black olives; if you'd like to serve this cold, toss in some chopped cucumbers and fresh tomatoes.

Central American: Add in chopped fresh or canned tomatoes, chopped fresh cilantro, chopped onions, and chopped green bell peppers; if you'd like some heat, add some Tabasco or hot sauce.

English: Toss cooked white beans with ketchup or used canned vegetarian baked beans and serve on toast. (Beans on toast is a mild English teatime item.)

Indian (and this is a very Anglicized version): Toss cooked lentils or garbanzos with curry powder and chopped onions. If you have the time, purchase garam masala (spice mix) and some tandoori paste, then toss cooked beans with these and bake until bubbly.

Norwegian: Very mild, very pure-cooked, or baked beans flavored only with a small amount of bay leaf.

French: Invest in a small bottle of Herbes de Provence (found in most markets), an aromatic spice blend that includes lavender and thyme. Toss lightly with tomato juice, lemon juice, and Herbes de Provence. If you have the time, you can make a vegan cassoulet by simmering white beans with onion, garlic, tomatoes, vegan sausage, black pepper, and thyme.

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