Share this article

print logo

Bean cuisine Lentils and other legumes can be an excellent alternative to meat, fish

If you're looking for an alternative to fish for meatless entrees during Lent -- or for that matter, all year round -- how about building some meals around beans?

Crescent Dragonwagon has been evangelizing about bean cuisine for 40 years, dating back to "The Bean Book," published in 1972, when she was just 18. Her new book, "Bean by Bean: A Cookbook" (Workman, $15.95 paperback) illustrates how the perception of beans has changed in the ensuing years, and how the number of readily available varieties has exploded.

"It went from a food of low social standing to being as it should be -- a darling of people who love food," Dragonwagon said in a phone interview from her home in Vermont. "That also goes together with the whole issue of sustainability: Beans and the legume family are the only plants that enrich the soil instead of sucking nitrogen from it."

And one method she uses to develop recipes means that many carnivores won't miss the meat, even when a dish contains none.

"One of the things I do as a food writer is to take a classic recipe made with meat, look at it a whole lot and tinker with it according to my taste," Dragonwagon said.

Such is the case with CD's Chili Mole, a bean-based chili loaded with complex flavors.


1 pound dried black beans, picked over, rinsed and soaked

10-12 cups vegetable stock or broth (see note)

2 bay leaves

1 ancho (dried poblano) chili pepper, stemmed

1 fresh jalapeno pepper, stemmed

Freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup dark raisins

1/4 cup olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and chopped (see note)

1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons coriander seeds (see note)

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper or to taste

1/4 teaspoon anise seed

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika (see note)

1 tablespoon chili powder, preferably hot

Ground cloves

3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1 (15- to 16-ounce) can chopped tomatoes

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 to 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, diced

2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, preferably natural

1 tablespoon tahini or 2 tablespoons freshly toasted sesame seeds

1 chipotle chili pepper in adobo, stemmed

2 teaspoons adobo sauce


1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey, optional

Cook the beans. Drain soaked beans and rinse well. Place in a large, heavy pot; add enough stock to cover them by 1 1/2 inches. Add bay leaves, ancho chili pepper, whole stemmed jalapeno and a generous grinding of black pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1 hour. Add the raisins. Continue cooking until the beans are nearly tender and the raisins have more or less disintegrated, 30 to 60 minutes longer.

About 20 minutes or so before the beans are done, spray a large, heavy skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Place it over medium heat, add olive oil and, when it's hot, onions. Saute onions until they start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.

Stir in bell pepper, chopped jalapeno and poblano; saute for 2 minutes. Add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ground cumin, ground coriander, oregano, cayenne, anise seed, cinnamon, paprika, chili powder and a tiny pinch of cloves. Reduce the heat slightly and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until it just becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat.

Scrape the sauted ingredients into the simmering beans. Deglaze the saute pot with a little bean stock, stirring to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return this liquid to the beans.

Add the tomatoes and their juice and the tomato paste to the bean pot and stir well. Simmer for another 10 minutes, then maintain at a simmer while you continue with the recipe.

Place chocolate, peanut butter, tahini, chipotle and adobo sauce in a food processor or blender. Add a generous ladleful of the simmering beans (including the whole ancho and jalapeno, if you can find them) and process to make a thick, highly seasoned paste.

Scrape the paste into the bean pot, turn the heat down as low as possible and add a generous portion of salt to taste. Simmer slowly, partially covered, until the seasonings are well-blended, about 20 minutes longer.

Just before serving, pick out the bay leaves. If desired, mash a couple of ladlefuls of the beans against the sides of the pot to thicken the chili. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary, adding agave syrup or honey if more sweetness is desired. Serve immediately or let come to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, overnight and reheat very gently the next day.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Note: A 12-ounce bottle of beer can be substituted for 1 1/2 cups of the stock. Seed the chopped jalapeno that's used in the saute for a milder chili. If you don't have coriander seeds, increase the amount of ground coriander to 3 1/2 teaspoons. Substitute 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika for 1/2 teaspoon of the sweet paprika, if desired.

-- Adapted from "Bean by Bean," by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman, 2012).


2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh ginger

3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil, such as sunflower oil

1 large onion, thinly sliced

1 jalapeno or other fresh chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1/3 cup chopped cilantro

3 (14- to 15-ounce) cans of beans, preferably three different types, drained and rinsed

Freshly ground black pepper

Salt, optional

Place ginger, garlic and 1/4 cup cold water in a blender; process until smooth.

Heat oil in a medium or large pan over medium heat. Add onion and chili and cook gently for 5 minutes or until softened. Add cayenne, cumin, coriander and turmeric; stir-fry for 1 minute.

Stir in the paste from the blender and cook for another minute. Add lemon juice, cilantro and 3/4 cup water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover the pan tightly and cook for 5 minutes.

Add beans, stir gently and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until heated through. Season with pepper to taste. Season with salt to taste if using low-sodium or no-sodium-added beans.

Makes 4 servings.

-- Adapted from "The Vegetarian Kitchen," edited by Linda Fraser (Hermes House, 1999).