25 February 2012

Weekend Cooking: Review: Bean by Bean by Crescent Dragonwagon

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Today I'm talking about one of my favorite cookbook authors: Crescent Dragonwagon. You might remember when I first introduced you to her in my Double Dose of Crescent Dragonwagon post or perhaps you were baking up a storm after my review of her Cornbread Gospels.

I waited patiently all fall while her new book, Bean by Bean, was undergoing final edits and then was sent to the printer. When her book arrived a couple of weeks ago, I was relieved to learn that my patience was rewarded because Dragonwagon has written another winner. Bean by Bean is quickly becoming my go-to source for dinner.

The first thing I noticed about Bean by Bean is its fresh and appealing design, with its green-and-white color scheme, fun fonts, cute drawings, and thoughtful layout. My eye was also quickly attracted to the many great extras:
  • quotes from cookbooks, comedians, food writers, and literature
  • informative sidebars about chiles, Thai condiments, fresh herbs, soy, and more
  • recipe introductions with tips for success
  • menu ideas to help you pull together just right dishes
  • appendix with information about each type of bean and weight and measure conversion charts
Another great feature is the many, many recipe variations you'll find in Bean by Bean. Even the most timid cooks will be able to tweak dishes to fit their tastes and the ingredients they have in the house. I'm the type of person who can generally substitute on the fly, but I always appreciate a new suggestion, and many home cooks will be grateful to have some guidance.

The recipes themselves include everything from appetizers to desserts (yes, bean-based desserts!). You'll find dips, soups, salads, chilies, stews and curries, casseroles, and stir-fries. The beans, by the way, include all kinds: fresh beans from the garden, dried and canned beans, and legumes. This means you'll use Bean by Bean all year long.

Oh, and I almost forget one of the coolest, most useful features. Each recipe is flagged with one or more color-coded icons. This makes it easy to tell at quick glance whether the recipe is suitable for vegetarians, vegans, meat eaters, and/or gluten-free diets. I'm telling you, Bean by Bean is a book all of you can use. And because of the variations, one base recipe can often work for everyone, just by changing an ingredient or two.

Want some idea of the recipes themselves? Here are few I want to try:
  • The 7-Layer Middle Eastern Mountain (a take-off on the popular layered Mexican appetizer/dip)
  • Three Sisters Salad (green beans, zucchini, corn, and tomatoes)
  • Baked Beans Brazilian (casserole with olives, cheese, and pork)
  • Falafel (fried chickpea balls traditionally served in pita)
All the directions are clearly outlined and easy to follow and the vast majority of the ingredients are readily available at the supermarket. There are a few spices or herbs that might be more difficult to find if you are very rural, but that won't limit the useability of the cookbook.

I made the following bean and pasta recipe, which was quick and easy and a big hit. I picked broccoli rabe for my greens, which just happened to be one of the suggested variations, and served it with fresh-baked bread. I'll give you the base recipe here. The directions give you a sense of Dragonwagon's writing style, which is easygoing and personal.

CD's Beans & Greens Pasta with Lemon, Garlic, and Chile

Serves 4
Vegetarian (Vegan if the cheese is omitted)
  • 16 ounces dried pasta
  • 2 to 3 whole dried chiles, stemmed and broken in half
  • 1 large bunch of Swiss chard, rinsed well (but with some moisture still clinging to the leaves), tough ends of stems removed, leaves and tender pars of stems sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch ribbons
  • 3 to 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 can (15 ounces) chickpeas, drained well
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Finely grated Parmesan cheese for grating
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions.

2. Meanwhile, set a large, heavy skillet (ideally cast iron) over medium-high heat. Place the chiles in the skillet and toast, stirring them or giving the pan a shake occasionally, until they darken slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. (You might want to turn on an exhaust vent, if you have one, or throw open the windows; the air gets pretty pungent and cough-producing.)

3. Add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and then, almost immediately, the still-wet greens. Stir. There will be a big sizzle and the greens will quickly start wilting down, deepening in color. Immediately, just as soon as the greens have been stirred into the chile and olive oil, pop a tight-fitting lid over the skillet. Lower the heat just a bit and let the greens steam in their own liquid for 3 to 4 minutes.

4. Lift the lid and stir in the garlic. Cook for a few minutes more, just to take the edge of rawness off the garlic (don't let it brown), stirring to distribute everything. Then turn off the heat, squeeze half the lemon over the greens (squeeze through a strainer, to trap the seeds), and add the beans. Stir some more to heat the bean through (the pan will still be plenty hot). Add coarse sea salt and pepper to taste.

5. When your pasta is done (which might be about now, or midway through lemoning the greens), drain it well. Pile it, steaming hot, onto plates and divide the greens and beans over each portion. You can try to pick out the chiles if you like, or warn diners that they are there (if you're using red-stemmed chard, it's quite hard to spot those chilies, so, I repeat, warn those who like their food tamer). Drizzle each portion with a bit of the remaining olive oil. Cut the remaining lemon half into wedges and pass them along with the Parmesan at the table.

Buy Bean by Bean at an Indie, at Powell's, at Book Depository, or at bookstore near you. These links lead to affiliate programs
Published by Workman, 2012
ISBN-13: 9780761132417
Rating: A
Source: Review (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)


caite 2/25/12, 6:11 AM  

I have never had Swiss chard..and this looks like a good way to fix that.

Libby 2/25/12, 6:11 AM  

Oh! I'm so glad you told us about this! I have been following Crescent Dragonwagon forever. Before we all had blogs, she had a B&B in Arkansas and her Dairy Hollow website where she talked about the cooking and the gardening and life at the B&B. It was great. (I wanted a B&B but I thought people might not PAY to come and stay with me and the five kids...). She has since turned Dairy Hollow into a writers colony. So, thanks for letting me know about the new book!!! The Middle Eastern dip DOES sound intriguing! And the recipe you made turned out beautifully. :)

Libby 2/25/12, 6:20 AM  

Good lord...the last article I mister-linkied-with was about "And the Ladies of the Club.". That got saved as my name in the links. Sigh. Pretend I did it right.

jama 2/25/12, 6:58 AM  

This cookbook looks like something I definitely need to add to my collection. Always looking for new ways to prepare beans and eat less meat. I've never made any of her recipes before, but your high recommendation has got me convinced!

Rikki 2/25/12, 7:14 AM  

Sounds like an informative and entertaining book. I also love the cover.

Chinoiseries 2/25/12, 7:15 AM  

What a lovely cookbook! I'm definitely adding this one to my wishlish :) Yum, lemon juice and chili pepper go really well together :D I regularly make a pasta with this simple but delicious and fresh sauce.

Uniflame 2/25/12, 7:26 AM  

This recipe sounds great! I have to see if I can find the book :)

Beth S. 2/25/12, 8:02 AM  

This cookbook sounds like it's right up my alley. I have been obsessed with trying to use more beans in my cooking lately - I'm trying to add more meat-less protein in my diet and I have become obsessed with using black beans lately. I think it's time to give this book a try and explore some of my other beany options. :)

Julie P. 2/25/12, 8:03 AM  

I love beans but the rest of the family not so much. Do think the cover is wonderful!

Carol @ Always Thyme to Cook 2/25/12, 8:08 AM  

enthusiast review, I'm definitely checking this one out. I always loved the name, but have no books by Crescent Dragonwagon! I love bean dishes. Greens and Beans looks so good.

JoAnn 2/25/12, 8:41 AM  

Bean-based dessert? I'm dying of curiosity! Will definitely be taking a closer look at this cookbook.

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity 2/25/12, 8:51 AM  

I would have never thought to pick up a book about beans but your enthusiasm is seriously contagious! Especially as I have beans on the brain lately--we eat a lot of beans but mostly in the canned variety. Will be checking this one out!

rhapsodyinbooks 2/25/12, 8:57 AM  

This looks great! Also I have been getting the big canister of mixed uncooked beans and lentils from Costco which is really nice to use.

bermudaonion 2/25/12, 8:58 AM  

This looks like the perfect cookbook for my mother - she fixes beans all the time.

Esme 2/25/12, 10:03 AM  

A 7 layer Middle Eastern Mountain Top sounds delicious-especially since I just had middle eastern last night. I am going to find this book.

Lisa 2/25/12, 10:53 AM  

This is one that we'd probably really like. My husband would prefer a different type bean, but we might try it anyway, thanks!

(Diane) bookchickdi 2/25/12, 11:21 AM  

I received this book and can't wait to try some recipes. Your Beans and Greens casserole looks amazing!

Margot 2/25/12, 11:25 AM  

Excellent review. It's easy to see how much you love the Dragonmaster. I like the idea of this book devoted to such a good, inexpensive protein source. I'm going to give the recipe a try. I never would have thought of beans, pasta and greens together like this but it sounds deliciois.

Shelley Munro 2/25/12, 1:26 PM  

You've certainly piqued my interest. This sounds like a great book. I'm always looking for books with vegetarian recipes.

Carole 2/25/12, 1:39 PM  

Thanks again for this series. Great idea. I have linked you to a post about my most useful cookbook.

Memory 2/25/12, 1:49 PM  

Ooh, I love bean-based dishes! This is now on my list. Crescent Dragonwagon has the most perfect name, too.

Heidenkind 2/25/12, 2:20 PM  

My mom refuses to eat beans, so I don't think this book would get very far in our house. :) I can take them or leave them. They are pretty cheap!

Belle Wong 2/25/12, 2:26 PM  

Putting this on my list. Ward will definitely like this one!

Dawn @ sheIsTooFondOfBooks 2/25/12, 3:05 PM  

I've been reading this cookbook, but haven't cooked anything from it yet.

Since my 14 year old is now a vegetarian (2 months and counting), I'll be incorporating more beans as protein.

Thanks for tempting us with this review today!

Peggy Ann 2/25/12, 3:16 PM  

What a beautiful dish Beth! And the loaf of bread makes envious. I am adding this cookbook to my wishlist!

Christine 2/25/12, 5:56 PM  

This cookbook sounds right up my alley. I eat beans regularly, but always seem to prepare them the same 10 ways all the time! I'd love some inspiration.

Joy Weese Moll 2/25/12, 6:24 PM  

This sounds really good. I love the cover!

Unknown 2/25/12, 11:44 PM  

This looks really fascinating!! The picture of the meal looks yummy. I love the author's name! Thanks for sharing.

joanna 2/26/12, 7:59 AM  

I love beans and this book looks amazing. I must have missed your other posts about this author but I'll have to check her out!

Karen White 2/26/12, 11:44 AM  

Perfect timing - after narrating two audiobooks in a row about why we need to eat a plant based diet (THE LEAN by Kathy Freston and WHY WE LOVE DOGS, EAT PIGS AND WEAR COWS by Melanie Joy - let me know if anyone's interested in them...) I am committed to eating vegetarian and my eldest daughter is with me. So I need to learn more about cooking veg! Will definitely check this book and blogger out.

Heather S-G 2/26/12, 12:31 PM  

Oh, I like Crescent Dragonwagon and didn't realize she had another book out. Thanks for this review...I'm off to see if I can get the book!

Darlene 2/26/12, 1:15 PM  

This book sounds great and I may have to pick it up. I'm not much for eating meat so I've been thinking I need to incorporate more beans into my diet.

Serena 2/27/12, 8:21 AM  

I think this would be a great book for those with Gluten allergies...thanks for the recommendation..I have friends who may need this.

Robin M 2/27/12, 5:52 PM  

Beans, beans, the magical fruit. :) You've sold me. Will be on the look out for it.

Peaceful Reader 12/29/12, 12:05 PM  

I don't know how I missed this post. I adore Crescent Dragonwagon but know her mostly as a children's author. I love the sound of this freshly-styled cookbook and love to cook with beans!

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