by Ernest Barteldes
When I was living in Brazil, beans were always present at the table at lunch and dinner, either served by itself as a side or cooked together with rice (the classic baiao de dois, a traditional northeastern dish). I still recall that my grandfather saying that ‘without rice and beans, it is not a meal.’ And of course there is feijoada, the country’s national dish, which is made with black beans and smoked pork.
In fact, beans are staples throughout Latin America – there is a saying that Latinos are ‘united by the language but separated by the beans,’ since each culture has a different preference, running the gamut from the pinto, red, white and black varieties.
I was pretty much accustomed by the “Brazilian way” of having beans (the exception was when I had chili), but when I relocated to the US in 2000, I learned the countless different ways this legume could be served. I learned to make salads, soups, appetizers, main courses and even sandwiches made with the humble but increasingly versatile legume (my recipe for black bean burgers ran on NewCity Chicago earlier this summer). And this goes without bringing up soy beans, which have countless culinary uses.
But the truth is that beans are good for you. They are a good source of protein (especially garbanzo and soy beans), and studies have shown that a bean-rich diet helps lower cholesterol and blood pressure while also being a natural regulator of the functions of the colon (that is probably why there is that limerick about beans being ‘a musical fruit’) among other benefits. While it is a pain to cook beans from scratch, in the US pretty much any variety can be found in cans (thank you, Goya), which shortens the preparation time and also gives the home cook to stock up – you can even find the famous Mexican refried beans (frijoles refritos), which are basically mashed and seasoned)
The fact is that beans have always been a part of my life and will continue to be well into the future. While I hardly even have it like I did in Brazil (boiled and served over rice), today I use beans in many different ways, and I’m always learning new ways to prepare them – and with so many species to pick from, I’m sure it will never get boring
Mediterranean Garbanzo Bean Salad (Balela)
1 14 oz. can of garbanzo beans, drained
1 8 oz. can of black olives, sliced
Bunch of cilantro, chopped
Juice of one lemon
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 ½ tbsp. olive oil
Instructions: Toss all vegetables together, add olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper and serve.