Lose the Meat: Tips for the Almost Vegetarian
Beans' versatility and variety make it easy to cut back on meat, whatever your motivation. Beans provide the protein that every body needs, but with none of the cholesterol that meat supplies. For a home cook trying to improve the family diet, or a chef trying to enhance customer options, beans can inspire solutions.
Some strategies for minimizing or eliminating meat: Shift the balance of power.
Rethink the old "center of the plate" concept, with meat as the meal's focal point. Make it a bit player in some dishes and give beans the starring role.
Old style: Grilled pork chop with white beans
New style: White bean "cassoulet" with pancetta and slow-roasted tomatoes
Old style: Chicken enchiladas
New style: Spicy Mexican bean soup with butternut squash, corn, chipotle chile and shredded chicken Think of meat as a seasoning.
Use it to give depth to bean dishes, to add another layer of flavor — just as you use onions, garlic and herbs. Add a smoked turkey wing to a pot of navy beans…or a ham bone to a cranberry bean and kale soup... or a single thick slice of bacon to a big, brothy pot of black beans with garlic and cumin. Borrow ideas from traditional vegetarian cuisines.
Look to India, for example, where vegetarianism is a way of life, to find techniques you can adapt. Prepare an Indian-style dal with pink beans, perfuming the pot with fresh green chiles, ginger, turmeric, cumin, black mustard seed and cilantro. To impart a signature Indian flavor, toast whole cumin seed and mustard seed in hot oil or ghee (clarified butter) and stir these aromatic seasonings in at the end. Replace meat stock with bean broth.
Cooked beans produce a rich and full-bodied broth that gives backbone to vegetarian soups. Always save the broth from cooking beans to enhance soups and vegetable stews. You can cook rice in bean broth, too. A rib-sticking Tuscan Bread and Bean Soup
gets its robust character from beefy cranberry beans simmered with garlic and bay leaf. No meat required. Meatless bean recipe to try:Tuscan Bread and Bean Soup
Beans & Co: Pairings That Work
If your kitchen repertoire is feeling predictable, it may be time to explore some new protein options. Chicken breasts, take a break. Let dry and canned beans energize your cooking by sparking your creativity. They introduce colors, textures, shapes and flavors that boost plate appeal. And they play so well with others. As you explore the world of beans, you will find they lead you to other legumes and grains — their nutritious companions in classic dishes around the world.
Beans with beans: Tweak familiar bean dishes by adding unexpected twists. If you normally make chili with kidney beans, try a three-bean version, adding pink and pinto beans to the mix. Everybody makes hummous with chick peas, but preparing it with Great Northern beans becomes your fresh idea. Three-bean salad? Made with kidney beans, fresh green beans or wax beans and edamame, this oldtimer has renewed appeal. Pair cranberry beans with Great Northern beans in minestrone or pasta e fagioli. Dress cooked kidney, cranberry and Great Northern beans with vinaigrette and fold in poached shrimp or high-quality canned tuna. Spoon over butter lettuce for an appealing summer salad.
Beans with grains: Pairing beans with grains makes a complete protein, supplying all nine essential amino acids. That’s why Mexican cooks accompany pinto beans with tortillas; Indians serve legumes with rice; and Middle Eastern diners love beans with bulgur. The marriage of beans and grains isn’t just nutritionally sound; it’s ancient, delicious and enduring. For maximum nutritional impact, combine beans with whole grains, such as whole-wheat pasta or bread, wheat berries, barley, bulgur, corn, farro, kamut, quinoa and brown rice. A few possibilities:
Turkish red bean and bulgur soup with lemon and mint
Pinto bean tostadas with shredded chicken, avocado and queso fresco
Black bean and corn salad with green onions
Tabbouleh with kidney beans
Farro risotto with cranberry beans
Poblano chiles peppers stuffed with rice, corn and black beans
Navy bean soup with mushrooms and barley
Whole wheat pita with grilled lamb and white bean hummous
Cavatelli with white beans and chile oil
Whole-wheat bruschetta with white bean puree and wilted greens
Bean-plus-grain recipe to try:
Roasted Salmon, Quinoa and Black Bean Salad