Cooking With Beans - Making the Most of a Versatile Resource

Today we forget just how versatile and important beans have been as a foodstuff in human history. After all, beans represent one of nature's ultimate storage foods. They contain plenty of protein and carbohydrate and can be dried for storage over winter.

If you combine beans with grains then you get all the amino acids necessary for humans and just about every human culture has or had their own 'beans and grains' dish. Indeed, Mesoamerican civilizations could not have flourished without dishes of maize and beans flavoured with chillies.

In Europe, Medieval staples were gruels or pottages of rice or grains with beans (typically broad or fava beans). In West Africa today the typical staple is often a bean-based stew served with rice.

It's often forgotten that beans can be ground into flour for addition to breads or the production of pancakes and cooked beans can also be mashed. Beans can also be used to make biscuits (cookies), cakes, muffins and a whole range of other foodstuffs.

Below are two classic bean dishes:

Moyin-Moyin (Nigerian Black-eyed Pea Muffins)

550g dried black-eyed peas (cowpeas)
1 tbsp dried shrimp powder
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste
1 chilli pepper, finely chopped
cayenne pepper or red chilli powder, to taste

Wash the black-eyed peas under plenty of cold running water then place in a large pot and cover with boiling water. Allow to soak over night. The following day, rub between your hands to remove the skins. Rinse to wash away the skins then drain in a colander.

Mash the black-eyed peas into a thick paste then slowly add just enough water to form a smooth, thick, paste. Add 1 tbsp oil and beat with a whisk. In a separate container combine all the remaining ingredients, crush them with the back of a spoon then stir together until thoroughly mixed. Add all the other ingredients to the black-eyed peas and stir to make a smooth paste.

Grease a muffin tin and scoop the mixture into the individual wells, making sure the wells are no more than 3/4 full. Place the pans in a baking dish partly-filled with water then bake at 170°C for about half an hour. Check to see whether the moyin-moyin are done by inserting a pick in the centre and seeing if it emerges clean. When done, take out of the oven, allow to cool and tip out onto a wire rack. Serve warm as an accompaniment to a main course.

Chili Con Carne

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1kg lean beef, minced
500ml red wine
800g tinned chopped tomatoes
3 tbsp tomato purée
2 red chillies, finely sliced
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander seeds
1 stick cinnamon
a few drops of Worcestershire sauce
1 beef stock cube
800g cooked red kidney beans (tinned is fine)
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1 large bunch of coriander leaves, roughly chopped
wedges of lime, to serve

Heat the oil in the base of a large heavy-based saucepan and use to fry the onion and garlic on medium heat until softened. Increase the heat then add the beef and cook quickly until browned all over. As soon as the meat is nicely coloured add the red wine and bring to a boil. Continue boiling for about 2 or 3 minutes then stir-in the tomatoes, tomato purée, chilli, cumin, coriander, cinnamon and Worcestershire sauce. Crumble-in the stock cube then stir to combine and season well.

Bring the mixture to a simmer then cover with a lid and cook over gently heat for about 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Now add the kidney beans and the fresh coriander. Continue cooking for a further 10 minutes, uncovered, then take off the heat and adjust the seasoning (if necessary).

Serve on a bed of rice garnished with lime wedges.

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About The Author,
Dyfed Lloyd Evans is the creator of the Celtnet Recipes Site where you can find hundreds of bean-based recipes from ancient times to the present day.