Originally published April 2, 1984
The Cinderella of the kitchen has always been the bean. While other foods are fussed over and sent to the ball, the bean is left behind.
Why, one asks, has it been relegated to this lowly position? Well, for one thing, beans are inexpensive. And some consider their modest price a measure of their worth. Then, too, beans happen to be good for you, a questionable attribute to those who feel anything nutritious can’t taste wonderful. Beans also have a way of hanging around the kitchen forever, always self-effacing and modestly residing on the dusty back shelf of the pantry.
And yet these sturdy legumes have a distinguished history. In Greek and Roman times they were used to designate the votes in elections. A white bean meant “yes” and a black bean meant the rascals were on their way out. When Pythagoras told a man to abstain from beans, he was, in fact, subtly suggesting that he get out of politics.
Beyond their place in history, beans also have long fulfilled a vital role in kitchens of other lands. Since they are rich in protein, B vitamins, iron and calcium, they are important in cultures where not much meat is available. Every country in the world has a favorite bean dish. In China, as far back as the first century A.D. merchants made fortunes peddling bean relishes, and delicacies such as French cassoulet, Italian bean soups, Greek bean stews and Brazilian feijoada are all built around the bean.
The advantage of bean protein is that beans are naturally low in fat and devoid of cholesterol. What fats they do contain are polyunsaturated, the kind that can help lower cholesterol levels in the blood.
The Kitchen Mouse’s bean recipes:
Spanish White Bean Soup
Braised Lamb with Beans
Unforgettable Boston Baked Beans with Rum