Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
Along time ago in a galaxy far, far away – actually, it was in the same galaxy but, for real, it was a long time ago – when I entered adulthood, I had my first encounter with that appetizer epiphany, the layered bean dip. Before that moment, tortilla chips were simply dunked in either canned or bottled salsa until everyone started making nachos. The problem with nachos was that you could never get the perfect bite. Sometimes it was just cheese, sometimes just sour cream and a little salsa, sometimes just guacamole and a single olive slice. In the worst-case scenario, you’d get just a naked chip without any topping at all. Until someone created that multi-layered bean dip, the world changed for me. Every bite contained a little refried beans, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, cheese and olives! Of course, creating the perfect layered bean dip either requires a commercial refrigerator that can accommodate a half-sheet or even quarter-sheet baking pan, or you’ll be left with the inevitable consequences of simply using a standard 9” x 13” baking pan, which will inevitably result in your thumb and forefinger holding a miniscule triangle of tortilla chip when it invariably breaks after you’ve buried it in that bean dip goodness.
Beans are one of my favorite foods as they are not only versatile – functioning as both the main ingredient in some recipes as well as a supporting ingredient in other recipes – but you can also find them, dried, canned or even frozen. Nutritionally speaking, they are powerhouse foods, providing adequate dietary fiber, low glycemic index carbohydrates (in other words they don’t immediately raise your blood sugar) and are a good source of protein, especially when combined with other plant proteins like wheat and sesame.
Beans come in all colors and shapes. From the vibrant greens of the Pisum (peas) and Glycine (edamame) genus, to the reds, blacks, pinks and whites of the Phaseolus genus. They range in size from the large Vicia genus (fava beans), to lima beans, down to the small Vigna genus (azuki and mung beans). Prep time for the dried variety ranges from no soaking at all for the Lens genus (lentils) to at least a seven-day soak for the Lupinus genus (lupini beans). If you forget to soak the beans or have no time to pre-soak them, then simply reach for a bag of frozen beans. Electricity out? Then grab your can opener and open a can of beans. It’ll all still work in the end.
My first bean epiphany actually happened well before sampling that layered bean dip. It occurred in home economics class in the seventh grade. Ms. Chang had everyone take an English muffin, on which we topped with Campbell’s BBQ Beans (I don’t think Campbell’s makes this product anymore), shredded cheese and a single piece of raw bacon, which was then broiled until the bacon sizzled. I’m not sure if I enjoyed this creation simply because I made it or because it was something Mom would never serve us as the bacon drippings went directly into the beans (Mom always drained cooked bacon on paper towels).
Beans as a Spread
Since it’s a lot easier to store a standard container of bean dip instead of a baking sheet, I now add all ingredients to the refried beans instead of layering my dip. Because this bean dip is vegan, I also include it for lunch and dinner as part of my shojin ryori cuisine for 49 days after the passing of an immediate family member. And because it involves all canned, bottled or dried ingredients, it only takes about five minutes to create … unless you add the optional fresh ingredients.
Bean & Olive Spread
2, 16-ounce cans fat free refried beans
1, 4 ¼-ounce can chopped olives
1, 4-ounce can roasted, diced green chilies
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried cilantro
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/8 teaspoon onion powder
2 teaspoon smoked paprika
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup salsa verde (I use Herdez)
Hot sauce to taste (optional)
Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. Makes about six cups.
Serve with crackers, chips or sliced baguettes or use as a healthy sandwich spread. Options include adding diced fresh tomatoes, cooked brown rice or barley, fresh cilantro or roasted diced jalapenos.
Use in place of usual sandwich spreads (mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup) with sliced grilled chicken breast or pork tenderloin with sautéed peppers for a “fajita” sandwich in a sliced baguette. The beans will function as a “glue” to hold other sandwich ingredients inside of your sandwich instead of squishing out with the first bite.
The next recipe also uses canned beans, however, since the garlic, onions and spices need to be cooked it will require a little more time. It incorporates warm, savory spices like cumin, coriander, sumac, allspice and cinnamon, as well as pomegranate molasses (R. Fields carries this product), so it has traditional Middle Eastern flavors.
Red Kidney Bean Dip
2 tablespoons olive oil (not extra-virgin)
1 large onion, finely diced
3 fat cloves garlic, minced or grated
2 cans kidney beans, drained
2 tablespoon tomato paste
2 teaspoon pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sumac
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 cup dried cilantro
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic until soft and golden. Add the kidney beans and stir in the tomato paste, pomegranate molasses and spices, and cook for a few minutes. Take the pan off the heat and when it has cooled a little, process the mixture in a food processor or with a stick blender until it is a coarse puree. Refrigerate before serving as a dip or as a sandwich spread. Makes about three cups.
And for those who are worried about the “musical” side effects after consuming beans … just blame the dog … or your spouse …
Ryan Tatsumoto is a clinical pharmacist by day. In his off-hours, however, he and his wife enjoy seeking out perfect marriages of food and wine. Ryan is a certified sommelier and a certified specialist of wine. The Windward O‘ahu resident also writes a column for San Francisco’s Nichi Bei Weekly called “The Gochiso Gourmet” (nichi-bei.org/columns/gochiso-gourmet/).