The Versatile Bean

August 23, 2014 Updated: August 23, 2014

Beans have the amazing culinary quality of having many uses. They can be part of a main course or a side dish and served hot or cold. They can be baked, fried, or made into a dip. They are also very nutritious and relatively inexpensive.

Beans are very diverse. There are as many varieties as corn or rice, but the few that are typically common in North America are red kidney, pinto, black, garbanzo (chick peas), white northern, and lima. The different varieties can sometimes be mixed together or substituted in various recipes.

Once you get used to preparing basic cooked beans, you can experiment with different ingredients and see what interesting creations you can come up with.

At just about every grocery store or market, beans are usually found dried, canned, or fresh. Canned beans are the easiest to work with as they are precooked, while dried or fresh beans require some extra preparation.

For dried beans, soak in cold water overnight or for about six hours, then drain and boil for about two hours or until they are soft.

Fresh beans do not need to be soaked, but they should be rinsed thoroughly and then boiled the same way. Note that fresh beans will probably still be in their pod, which will need to be removed before rinsing.

For canned beans, strain the water they were packed in and then rinse the same way you would as if they were fresh.

After you have boiled the beans and strained them, you are now ready to transform them into a savoury dish.

Versatile Bean Salad

454 ml (16 oz) cooked beans (kidney, black, navy, and/or pinto)
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium tomato, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
250 ml (1 cup) green and/or red cabbage, finely chopped
50 ml (1/4 cup) lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
15 ml (1 tbsp) thyme
5 ml (1 tsp) oregano
15 ml (3 tsp) ground cumin
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients, let sit for 30 minutes to an hour, and then serve.

Spicy Black Bean Soup

1 litre (32 oz) chicken stock or vegetable stock
454 ml (16 oz) cooked black beans
1 medium onion, chopped
3 large garlic bulbs, pulverized
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 large jalapeno pepper, chopped
15 ml (1 tbsp) ground coriander
5 ml (1 tsp) Mexican oregano
15 ml (3 tsp) white pepper
10 ml (2 tsp) cayenne pepper
5 ml (1 tsp) black pepper
Salt to taste

Bring the stock to a boil, add the beans and the the rest of the ingredients, reduce heat, and simmer for approximately two hours. When beans are done, remove from heat and serve. Garnish with shredded cheddar cheese, Monterey Jack cheese, or sour cream.

Spicy Black Bean Dip

Follow the same recipe for the soup, except after the beans have simmered for a couple of hours, leave them on the heat until most of the water has boiled off. Remove from heat, cool, place in a food processor or blender, and puree until smooth.