Bean by Bean, it sounds like a wholesome and perhaps hippie subject and when one notices the name of the author, Crescent Dragonwagon, then one will be convinced that one will have incense burning and tie-dye dishcloths as kitchen companions to this book.
Take the trouble to actually open the cover and you will appreciate that this is a volume for the 21st century and not just for those with vegetarian sandals and knitted yoghurt. The recipes here are practical, delicious and sustaining, and lots of them are healthy. There are 175 recipes so there is bound to be something for every taste.
These days we all worry about not having any money, or hanging onto the little we have. We can make savings but we should still eat well and we don’t want to feel that we are cutting back on quality. Food should be enjoyed rather than endured. Beans are still great value for money and can be tasty and nutritious. It’s comfort food.
Every culinary culture seems to have its array of bean dishes, so there is plenty of variety: mild and herby beans, hot and zesty beans, and creamy satisfying beans. There are plenty of pre-cooked beans in tins and many recipes here use those, but one can obviously replace them with home-cooked beans. I think that one could also substitute easily available beans for those to which we don’t have access in the UK.
Crescent has evidently taken her research seriously. For every familiar dish she offers several alternatives. There is sure to be a recipe for every bean you can think of and from every continent. The chapters are arranged by type of dish: soups, salads, spicy, stews and curries, bakes and casseroles, stir-fries and even desserts.
Ethiopian lentil stew, called Yamisir Wot, uses green lentils. Yes, lentils are featured in this book as they are, after all, just split beans or peas. This is an aromatic dish using poblano peppers, garlic and ginger. It’s a stew usually served with an Ethiopian bread – injera – but any flatbread would work well.
This is an American cookbook so there are some delicious baked bean recipes. A must-try is Old-fashioned Down-home All-Day Baked Beans: a simple and hearty dish that is a great side dish for barbecued meats. It’s not a vegetarian recipe and, to be honest, I wouldn’t just leave out the pork if catering for vegetarians: the dish has salt pork (or bacon if you can’t get that) at its core. Just choose another recipe for non-meat eaters – there are plenty here.
The dessert that is one of the most striking in this book is an Iranian-inspired cake. The bean element is supplied by chickpea flour, which is called gram flour in Asian supermarkets. It’s beige in colour and has a nutty flavour. This cake is studded with dried cherries and is perfumed with rose water. It’s also laced with unsweetened sour cherry juice but if that’s not available then use cranberry juice. It’s a sticky, moist and exotic cake that would be a delight served with some mint tea.
Bean by Bean – a cookbook is packed with inspiring dishes that will make it easier for you to stick to a budget. There are light and salady dishes for summer, and rich and saucy dishes for the other 10 months. Crescent Dragonwagon has penned a volume that’s full of tasty surprises and some tempting classics.
Bean by Bean – a cookbook
Author: Crescent Dragonwagon
Published by: Workman Publishing
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018