I need to get something off my chest: I used to be prejudiced against beans. In all honesty, for most of my life, I’ve associated them with something to be thrown into a burrito as extra filling, or refried as part of taco night, or, I have to confess, as the main subject of a schoolyard rhyme, and that was about it.
But this year, beans became my favorite food. Maybe it was because in February, I stocked my pantry full of Rancho Gordo Heirloom varietals (the best beans out there). I still had to figure out how to make them delicious, and I hold this book almost entirely responsible for my success.
Cool Beans by The Washington Post’s Food and Dining Editor, Joe Yonan, has been, by far, the cookbook I’ve cooked out of most this year. The book’s premise is a simple one: this food you thought was just ok, is actually really delicious, and really easy to make delicious in more ways than you likely thought possible. Throughout the book, Yonan guides us through his legume-filled world. The book is rife with history and important info—like did you know beans are one of the oldest foods? He answers important questions about whether or not to soak beans before cooking (you don’t need to if they’re fresh), how to best cook them (stovetop in a Dutch Oven or Instant Pot works great) and even how to avoid flatulence (a sheet of kombu does wonders). While some recipes do touch on what you might expect of beans, they still take it to another level. I’ll never make any other kind of black beans other than his Cuban Style Black Beans with a hint of orange and coriander again. But beyond that, Yonan evokes the incredible versatility of the bean—whipping up a Tunisian Chickpea Stew that will change your winter, or Maine Homesteader Baked Beans with molasses, or Nigerian Stewed Black Eyed Peas, with fried plantains sprinkled atop.
While the recipes range from hearty and comforting to salads and dips, the book is impressively, entirely vegan. I am not vegetarian or vegan in the slightest but I can say this for sure—I’ve never felt that the book and the recipes inside are vegan. I just think they are flat out delicious.