Yes, I know, ever since the beginning of all this, beans have been headlining bi-monthly grocery lists, newsletter recipe rec’s, and article after article. Beans, along with rice, are the shelf-stable, nutrition-packed apocalypse good that everyone has been stocking up on. But while some people’s love affair with beans may be forcibly quarantine-induced, my own that’s been going on for many months now is finding this moment to shine. I’ve mentioned before that I had never been one for plants on my childhood plate, beans included. But last summer a switch was flipped. From my Mom’s five bean salad to beans and breakfast potatoes, to quesadilla after quesadilla, I could not get enough. I would have happily worked beans into any meal. For the most part, I did! And now that we’re here with beans aplenty and a kitchen at our disposal, I have been doing like the masses and using them to my heart’s content in ways new and old!
It is truly incredible what salt and olive oil can do. Just as the two can take a humble potato and make it crispy goodness with the addition of heat, so is the case with chickpeas. A roommate from a couple of years ago introduced me to the idea of roasted chickpeas as a snack, but I had never tried them. But as we talked about our many cans of garbanzos in our basement, I thought now was as good a time as any to try, with the added bonus of homemade adventure!
While the oven made its way up to 425 degrees, I prepped my beans. I happened to have about half a can left from intermittent use in salads and sammies throughout the week, so I was able to simply spread them out on some paper towel sans-draining and dab them of any moisture that was attempting to cling on. Any residual moisture was going to prevent me from getting the crispiness I so desired, and I was not about to risk that by going about my dabbing half-heartedly. Once as dry as possible, and the oven was ready for roasting, I tossed the beans in a light drizzle of olive oil, sprinkled them in salt, and threw them in for a twenty-minute bake. Every five minutes or so I gave them a quick jiggle and toss to make sure they were getting evenly cooked.
When the twenty minutes were up the chickpeas emerged in a golden glow, perfuming the air with roasty goodness. I transferred them to a small bowl and tossed them in a bit of curry powder per the internet’s suggestion, and gave them a try. The crunch of the round legume was unlike any chip or fry I’ve had before and satisfying in an entirely different way. The interesting and unique texture to the bean that I love so was still there, but with a crisp enhancement. And the curry powder was the perfect coating making for irresistible snack food. My Mom, sister, and I finished them quickly that day for lunch and were eager to make another batch soon.
A few days later I made two whole cans worth in prep for the week, dividing them into Tupperware with different seasonings in each. I kept one of curry powder, one with Cajun seasoning mix we’ve had laying around, a garlic and onion batch, and a batch of cumin and dill. Though I tried to give them some time to de-steam before putting a lid on to retain the crunch, I had evidently not waited long enough, as when I checked up on them the insides were a bit foggy. I wiped away the moisture and let them sit out a little longer before lid-ing once again. And while not as good as fresh, I would still highly recommend making a batch for yourself to have around. Whether with a dash of salt or customized with flavor to the max, they make for a great addition to salad or a tasty snack all on their own!
The last thing I had before I left New York City was some pretty sad falafel. I had been looking to commemorate what felt like was going to be my last night in the city for a while with one of my favorite comfort foods which the city had exposed me to over the last four years. What I had instead was a disappointing, dry, crumbly ball without much oomph in a similarly underwhelming pita, with veg that mostly made a mess. In retrospect, an appropriate mirror of my actual situation as I packed as much as I could for my bus ride back to NH.
Ever since then I have wanted falafel redemption. A green ball of fried flavor reminding me why I loved it in the first place. And so without the ability to quickly pick some up around the block, I turned to making my own. Which, as it turns out, is crazy easy! I don’t know why I had always cast falafel as one of those things that were too hard to do myself. But it only takes a quick blitz of a few simple ingredients in a food processor (which I’m sure could be easily mashed by hand as well) to bring the…dough? Batter? Soon-to-be-falafel-mass? Together. With that done I could simply store it in the fridge until I was ready for frying.
After chilling for a few hours the mixture was perfectly scoop-able with my trusty squeeze-handled dough scooper. I could make clean, round balls and eject them right into the hot oil for a quick five minute (maximum) fry. And in no time I had deeply browned, crispy, bean balls!
We piled ours atop some homemade pita (a challenge that I shall continue to explore), tzatziki, and diced cucumber, tomato, and onion. It was the falafel I had been craving to comfort me on that final NYC night. Crunch giving way to plush, packed with warm flavor and just a little heat from a pinch of red pepper flake. It’s almost hard to believe when looking at them that these street cart powerhouses are made mostly from a humble bean. But that’s just the power of the chickpea. From its purest, whole roasted form, to pulverized, spiced, and fried, it hits all the right culinary spots.
Black Bean Soup
While chickpeas have certainly been having their time in the limelight recently, I cannot fail to mention what was perhaps one of the greatest new dishes made this quarantine. Black bean soup doesn’t sound like much. I’ll be the first to say that, while I was excited to have a dinner of beans, I wasn’t expecting it to snag a place as one of my top cooking accomplishments. And with a title such as “Basically Black Bean Soup”, it wasn’t boasting itself to be such, either. But Bon Appetit hardly tends to deliver less than delicious. And this soup was no exception.
But surely it must have been time-consuming, soaking the beans overnight and watching over them as they cooked for a couple of hours? Nope! These beans were no-soak-required! The rest of the ingredients were just as low prep, consisting of pantry staples like carrot, onion, garlic, oil and vinegar, and a few spices. And while I used a little homemade stock in place of water for part of the eight cups of liquid, the rest was all water as recipe-recommended. Once mis en place-ed and all parties were mingling together in the Dutch oven, all that was needed from me was an occasional stir every thirty minutes or so throughout 1 and a half hours to prevent sticking and promote even cooking. In the meantime, I could prep a simple yogurt and lime topping, do a little writing, catch up on email, read a book, or do whatever to my heart’s content.
After that hour and a half rolled by, with the soup looking smoother and smelling better every check-in stir, the beans had almost completely broken down leaving me with a lightly lumpy soup just as shown in the recipe. A humble black bean blend. And while it smelled incredible, we were still shocked when we gave it a try just how flavorful it was. It was that kind of flavor that ignites the taste buds and zaps the palate to attention. The perfect respite from an unseasonably cold (does the word “unseasonably” have any meaning anymore? See, snow in May) spring evening. But just as I could see it being a perfect cap off to a day skiing the New Hampshire mountains next winter, I would happily make it in the coming summer months, as the brightness of the accenting lime makes it a dish that truly feels appropriate for all seasons. Not only that but being full of long-lasting pantry essentials, it’s likely that you’ll have what you need to whip it up at any time, even now!
While beans have become something of a nutritional symbol of the craziness of quarantine, there are plenty of ways to turn them from a dreaded reminder into an exciting part of the day and source of comfort. How have you been using your beans? What varieties have you been turning to?