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Every time a new cookbook lands on our big table here at Oldways (with thanks to publicists, UPS and FedEx) we can’t wait to read through it and try some of the recipes. This year there has been a wave of great new books coming along, extolling practices dear to our hearts such as moving vegetables to the center of the plate and exploring ways to enjoy simple, tasty fresh food with minimal fussing over it.

When we picked up Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon, within minutes we knew it had the potential to be a life-changer. As we cook our

way, literally, through the 175+ recipes, which all use some kind of legume, we keep being delighted at the combinations of flavors, ingredients, and the breadth and depth of this book.

Reading it feels as if you have a good friend standing next to you in the kitchen or sharing an end of the sofa.  A New Yorker by birth, Crescent has run an inn in the Ozarks, where she served up plenty of beans. Today, she writes, cooks, and gardens at her Vermont farmhouse.

She also knows beans and demonstrates a nearly insatiable curiosity about them.

She refers to Thoreau’s musing, “What shall I learn of beans or beans of me?” and writes:

“My answer to Thoreau’s question is on every page of this book…I can tell you what I ‘d hope they’d say of me: ‘She treated us with respect, imagination, and gratitude. She cooked us with exuberance. She used us as a way to join hands with others all over this spinning green planet on which we ride together…”

The book includes great tips and helpful information on cooking and storing all kinds of beans. Crescent offers flavor combinations she has found locally  and from the far corners of the world, and she shares her creative spirit in every one of her beautifully written recipes. She also embraces our diverse dietary world, and includes recipe tags so everyone can find things they like: vegan; vegetarian; gluten-free; meatist.

In a recent fit of kitchen mania, we tried her recipes for Black Bean & Sweet Potato Salad, Harira ( a spicy Maghreb soup), New Wave-New Fave Baked Tofu (with peanut butter in the marinade)  Neo-Traditional Falafels (baked, not fried) , Bok Choy, Broccoli & Edamame Skillet (soooooo green!), and Socca, (a chickpea flatbread baked in a cast-iron skillet.) Fabulous all.

And then we had to make her Almost Classic Five-Bean Salad. Crescent suggests marinating it for at last 12 hours or up to 2 days, but it was half gone much sooner than that.

Almost Classic Five-Bean Salad
This is a freshened-up version of the well-known multibean salad with its very sweet dressing.

¼ pound green beans, tipped, tailed, cooked tender-crisp, and cut into 1-inch lengths


¼ pound yellow wax beans, tipped, tailed, cooked tender-crisp, and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 ½ cups (one 15-ounce can) tender-cooked black beans, very well drained
1 ½ cups (one 15-ounce can) tender-cooked kidney beans, very well drained
1 red onion, sliced paper thin
1 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 recipe Mariam’s Sweet-and-Sour Dressing  (recipe follows)

Mariam’s Sweet-and-Sour Dressing
For extra sprightliness, replace the vinegar with freshly squeezed lemon juice, or go east with rice wine vinegar and a little grated fresh ginger.
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup any mild vegetable oil, such as corn, canola, or peanut
1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard (preferably American-style “ballpark,” not Dijon)
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ teaspoons celery seed

Make the dressing: Combine the brown sugar and vinegar in a 1-quart jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well and let stand for 10 to 15 minutes. Shake again; the sugar should dissolve into the vinegar. Add the remaining ingredients, shake well again, and set aside. (This makes about 2 ½ cups.)

Place the beans and veggies in a large bowl, add the dressing, season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 12 hours or up to 2 days. Serve with a slotted spoon to drain off the dressing. Pretty darned simple, yes?

Serves 6 to 8 as a side dish or 8 to 10 as a buffet item.


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