Washington Post food editor Joe Yonan understands legume legwork. “When I was first starting on this book, the biggest question in my head was ‘How on earth am I going to fill it with 125 recipes on beans?’” Yonan says of his new cookbook, Cool Beans. “But by the time I got going, I talked to chefs all over the world and worked up recipes from my own repertoire, and it ended up being hard to stop at just 125.”
Yonan, who was born in Albany, Georgia, grew up in West Texas, and attended the University of Texas at Austin, shows beans’ wide geographic range, from a spicy Ethiopian red lentil dip to Italian rice salad with cannellini beans to Cuban-style orange-scented black beans. Southerners will find plenty of touchstones in his book, including a spin on pralines that employs roasted chickpeas instead of pecans and a red beans and rice recipe Yonan learned from Emily and Alon Shaya of the New Orleans restaurant Saba. He pays homage to the late Virginia-raised chef Edna Lewis in a recipe for “Southern Baked Beans,” and notes that “our exclusive association of baked beans with New England is flat-out wrong…every bean-growing culture seems to have at least one treatment for cooking them slowly, because the results are always so wonderful.” He, like Lewis, recommends serving slow-cooked beans alongside a green salad and crusty bread.
A vegetarian, Yonan finds alternatives to meat for standard bean dishes, including a chili that honors his roots. “I used to be on the other side of this argument,” Yonan says. “As a proud Texas boy, I would go to the mat about beans not belonging in chili. But when I stopped eating meat, I decided to apply all of my precision and feelings about chili and treat the beans with the care I treated the meat.” After sautéing a spice blend of ancho chiles, cumin, and paprika, he stirs in red kidney and black beans. “This has the round flavors and slow-burning heat that I love,” he says.
For the last cold days of winter, Yonan shares a warming tomato-and-lady-cream-peas soup that he says tastes “like the best possible version of childhood alphabet soup.” Store-bought tomatoes are okay to use because even slightly underripe tomatoes benefit from roasting, which concentrates their flavors. “But make it when local tomatoes are at their best,” he says, “and you’ll knock your own socks off.” The bean cooking liquid adds silkiness, Yonan says, so bypass the can aisle and cook with fresh or dried lady peas.