“I always have this sense of food as triangular, in that one point is nourishment, one point is connection and one point is pleasure, and I always come at it from the pleasure and connection points, and the nourishment follows,” she told me in a phone interview. “Besides, I always think it’s damning with faint praise to say something is good for being vegetarian. That’s like someone telling me, ‘You look really good for 59.’ Either I look good or I don’t.”
In “Bean by Bean,” Dragonwagon includes practical guides to various soaking techniques (and ways to reduce beans’ gassy side effects), explains varieties and their cooking times, gives entertaining asides about beans’ place in history and, most important for the inspiration-impaired, offers what the subtitle describes as “More Than 175 Recipes for Fresh Beans, Dried Beans, Cool Beans, Hot Beans, Savory Beans, Even Sweet Beans!”
I immediately flipped to the “Cool Beans” chapter and its section on full-meal salads, and two options jumped out at me: a bean-and-barley salad flavored with ginger, rice vinegar and peanuts, and marinated French lentils with beets, oranges and walnuts.
Both of them are perfectly suited to the tastes of my sister and brother-in-law (the recipes are neither Yankee nor Texan). My culinary attention span frankly is shorter than theirs, so I reserved these strategies for myself. I knew they’d be perfect for those days when I’m in the kitchen alone and want to throw something together that would make interesting use of already-cooked beans.
That’s what Dragonwagon does when her partner, David, travels and leaves her on her own. “Beans are such a nice, neutral canvas, you can make a big, basic pot of them and then play around with them differently every day,” she said.
That’s just what I was after. Besides, before I know it I won’t have my housemates to cook for (and with). My year of homesteading in Maine is half over, and once it ends I’ll be fending for myself again, needing all the beans, and bean recipes, I can soak up.
Asian Bean and Barley Salad
Lentil, Beet and Orange Salad
Yonan, author of “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One” (Ten Speed Press, 2011), is on a year-long book leave. He can be reached through his Web site, www.joeyonan.com. Follow him on Twitter: @joeyonan.