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Beans have a bad rap.
They’re too blah. Too hard to cook. What you eat when you don’t have enough money to buy anything else.
Then there’s the whole “musical fruit” issue.
But we’re here to show you why if you care about flavor, your health, and the environment, beans need to move to the center of your plate.
Produced by Lauren Markoe
- Joe Yonan Author, "Cool Beans" (Ten Speed Press, 2020); Food and Dining Editor, The Washington Post; @JoeYonan
- Nick Wiseman Co-founder of Little Sesame
Little Sesame’s Creamy, Fluffy Hummus
Makes about 3 cups
1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Scant 2/3 cup tahini
Combine the chickpeas with the baking soda and enough water to cover by 2 inches in a large pot over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil; foam will rise to the top within the first few minutes. While continuing to boil, skim off the foam repeatedly until very little remains. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the chickpeas are so tender you can very easily smash them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon, and the water is dark brown, about 40 minutes. Drain.
(I don’t recommend using a pressure cooker for this one because the baking soda foam can clog it up – and because it’s quick enough that you won’t save much time, especially when you count the bringing-up-to-pressure time.
NOTE: This will leave you with extra garlic scented oil; refrigerate it and use it within two weeks, anywhere you would use regular olive oil.
While the chickpeas are cooking, pour the olive oil into a very small saucepan over low heat. Add 2 of the garlic cloves, adding more oil if needed to cover them, and cook until they are very tender, about 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the olive oil.
Combine the drained chickpeas in a high-speed blender or food processor with the remaining 2 garlic cloves, the 2 garlic confit cloves, salt, and lemon juice and puree for 3 minutes, until very smooth. With the motor running, pour in the tahini and ¾ cup water and keep pureeing until very smooth. Add more water, if needed; you want the consistency to be like thick, pourable pancake batter. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Swoosh the hummus onto a shallow platter or serving bowl, drizzle with a little of the garlic-scented oil and serve. (To store, before drizzling with the oil, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before serving and whisk in more water if needed to loosen, since the hummus will thicken as it sits, and drizzle with the garlic-scented oil before serving.)
KOJO NNAMDIWelcome back. Maybe you eat baked beans once in a while, or have some black beans in your tacos. But have you ever tried a Christmas lima, a Jacob's cattle or lupine bean? Have you ever used beans to make bean-stuffed bread or winter salad or even ice cream? The bean world is bigger and more flavorful than you might think, and the health benefits abound. And if you're concerned about a warming planet, beans, say many scientists, can be a big part of the solution. Yet many people don't know how to make beans well. They don't know how to shop for them. They can't imagine picking a bean-based entree off the menu.
KOJO NNAMDISo, do you love beans? How do you like to make them? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow, or email to email@example.com. Joining me in studio to demystify the wonderful world of beans is Joe Yonan. He's the author of the new cookbook "Cool Beans," and he's also the food and dining editor of the Washington Post. Joe, good to see you again.
JOE YONANThank you, Kojo. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Nick Wiseman. He is the cofounder of the restaurant Little Sesame. Nick, good to see you.
NICK WISEMANYeah, thanks for having us.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments for either of these two gentlemen, give us a holler: 800-433-8850. Joe, before we begin, let's make sure everybody knows what we're talking about. What is a bean? Is it the same as a legume, and is it a vegetable, or something else?
YONANYeah, it's a legume. Legumes are the classification of plants that form pods. And there are seeds inside the pods. And we eat those seeds. That's what I'm primarily talking about, the dried seed pods of the legume plants. They're the only food that the USDA classifies as both a vegetable and a protein, which I think is kind of amazing.
NNAMDIYou found a great deal of anxiety surrounding beans. (laugh) Why do you think some people shy away from beans?
YONANWell, I think the biggest problem is that, you know, people think if they're thinking about cooking beans, they think that it's too late, that they should've already thought about it the day before, that they're sunk, because they haven't already planned it. And they haven't already cooked them from dry -- I'm sorry, they haven't already soaked them to get them ready to cook. And, of course, you don't really have to soak beans. So, that's one of the things that I'm trying to get people past, is helping them realize that beans can actually be a week-night ingredient, even when they cook them from dry.
NNAMDIMany people think beans are boring, just something that goes with hotdogs. But you say beans are anything but. Why do you like cooking with them?
YONANWell, you know, I've been eating a primarily plant-based diet for almost 10 years now. And they're this incredible source of protein. They're...
NNAMDIYou say anything meat can do, beans can do better.
YONANI certainly do believe that, yeah. I know that I'll probably get some pushback on that, but I'm just going to go ahead and plant my bean flag. Yeah, I just think that they offer this incredible versatility. So, they can play the part of a starch, really easily, in a dish. They can, of course, be the primary protein source in a dish. When you cook them from dry, too, you get this incredible flavor from the cooking liquid.
YONANSo, you know, I think you get two things when you cook beans from dry. You get the beautiful beans, which can be nutty tasting. They can be creamy. They can be a little bit sweet, sometimes. But you also get this beautiful liquid that you cook them in, which can be the basis for soups and stews and sauces. And you can sip it on its own. And if it's chickpeas, you can us it, actually, the way you would egg whites, just kind of magical.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Are beans a staple of the cuisine in your culture? Give us a call: 800-433-8850. The recipes in your book, Joe, originate in many different countries. It seems that beans are eaten just about in every culture around the world.
YONANThat's right. That's right. You know, when I first started looking into this book, planning it, I thought, how on Earth am I going to come up with 125 recipes using beans? (laugh) And I'm happy to say that by the time I was turning it in, I thought, how am I going to stop at 125? (laugh) Because as soon as you look around and really pay attention and talk to people -- you know, I would tell people I was working on the book, and they would say, oh, oh, oh, oh, you're doing lobia, right? And I'm saying, I'm sorry, please tell me what lobia is. And they're, like, oh, it's this fabulous kidney bean stew from the Republic of Georgia. And I'm like, okay, it's on the list. I'll look into it.
YONANYou know, or what about Nigerian black-eyed peas? You're doing a stew with Nigerian black-eyed peas, right, with the plantains? I'm like, okay, putting it on the list. (laugh) Yeah, I think part of that reason is that, you know, beans have been such an incredibly important, affordable food for people. So, when they're trying to make ends meet, you know, and they're looking around for affordable sources of nutrition, beans really can't be beat. And the fact that they're shelf-stable means that you can just have them around and use them whenever you want.
NNAMDINick, you grew up in D.C., developed an interest in cooking and began adding fancy restaurants to your resume starting as a 15-year-old in the kitchen of the District's renowned Equinox. And you founded several restaurants in D.C., including DGS Delicatessen and Raley's Seafood, where beans were not central to the menu. But your latest venture is different. Tell us about Little Sesame.
WISEMANYeah, "Little Sesame," we brought hummus to the center of the plate. It's a celebration of beans. You know, I think all the restaurants were learning, and we've sort of tried to distill everything we've learned along the way into Little Sesame. And, you know, for a long time, we had meat at the center of the play. And I think we saw, as time progressed, that customers were moving away from that, and that, you know, on the other side, on the business side, that the economics didn't really work. So, you know, Little Sesame was born.
NNAMDIYou give a lot of credit to your wife, Lea, for the evolution in your thinking about eating and sourcing food for your restaurants. Tell us what she does and how she's influenced you.
WISEMANYou know, she was the one protecting the caterpillars on the blacktop as a five-year-old. (laugh) So, you know, she's been longtime a champion of eating plant-based. You know, I've been lucky to be around her and sort of absorbing that knowledge for a long, long time. And, again, it was sort of this macro trend happening around food, and then the learning that I was having in the house of Lea. And, you know, Little Sesame was born.
NNAMDIYour menu's very chickpea-centric. (laugh) Are they the same as garbanzo beans, and why are they featured so prominently?
WISEMANYou know, again, I think that we saw that there was a whole movement around -- that people are shifting the way they're eating lunch. And people wanted sort of a healthy, filling, affordable lunch. And, you know, you look around the world to these old cuisines, and beans are a centerpiece of that. And hummus is eaten this way across the Middle East, as your main dish. So, we sort of brought our own philosophy to it, where we source a lot of beautiful local fresh vegetables and build these, you know, composed plates around hummus.
NNAMDIJoe, you put Little Sesame's hummus recipe into your cookbook.
YONANYes, I did.
NNAMDIPeople can have very strong opinions about hummus, but why do you like hummus?
YONAN(laugh) Oh, hummus is really -- it's really the best dip in the world, honestly. The best spread, the best dip, the best -- really one of the highest and best uses of beans that I can think of. In fact, I had to be sure not to include too many humai, which I call it, in the book. I really could do an entire book on hummus. I love Little Sesame's hummus because it's really light and fluffy. And so when -- and I'd had it. And so when Nick and I talked about my going over there and seeing how they do it at Little Sesame with him and his partner Ronan, of course I really wanted to.
YONANAnd, you know, it's just really satisfying. In fact, when I was doing research for the book, I ran into some studies that show that meals based on beans are actually more satisfying than meals based on meat. It really made a lot of sense to me, of course, intuitively because I've certainly always felt that way. But I just really like what they're doing over there, and I just love hummus.
NNAMDIHere is Modupei in Bowie, Maryland. Modupei, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MODUPEIHi, Kojo and hi, guys. You know, I'm so glad you guys are talking about beans. And when I was holding and I heard you say something about the way that the (word?) people in Nigeria make beans, which is the stewed beans. And the one that -- we used the black-eyed beans to make that one.
MODUPEIBut then in addition to that, we've also got something called moi moi. And so I really think -- so is that in your cookbook as well, the moi moi?
YONANIt's not. It's not. I love it, and I've had it. And, no, it didn't quite make the cut. But I really love talking about it. Do you make it?
MODUPEISo, what we do is we soak the beans for -- well, so that we can get the peel off.
MODUPEIAnd then we stick it in a blender, along with lots of onions, lots of jalapeno pepper and the red peppers, and then we blend it.
MODUPEIAnd after you've blended it, then you can add -- you can add fish, if you want to, like smoked fish. Some people like to add corned beef. And then you wrap it. Traditionally, it's wrapped and made in Nigerian banana leaves. And then you -- there's a weird way that you wrap it. Not everybody can do that. I was never able to do it correctly (laugh) growing up, because it's kind of -- there's a technique to it. And then you stick it in a pot and then you spin it. And it's the best food ever.
YONANRight. They remind me of tamales, in that way, where in this case the puree that you make with the black beans takes the place of the masa. Yeah, it's really great.
NNAMDIModupei, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can give us a call, 800-433-8850. What is your favorite bean recipe? You can also shoot us a tweet @kojoshow. Nick, we heard from Zafara from Fairfax, who said: I saw the food truck a few years ago. It inspired me to serve beans more at my restaurant. People really love it. So, obviously, you're having an affect here. Joe, let's clear up some common misconceptions about beans.
NNAMDIFirst, you have to soak them, true or false?
YONANFalse. You really don't have to soak them. There are reasons why you might want to, but you certainly don't have to. You'll save maybe about 25 percent of the cooking time if you soak them. They may cook up a little evenly. No, I should back up and say that I'm talking about soaking beans just to cook them to have a pot of beans.
YONANIf you're making falafel, right, with chickpeas, that's based on -- as Nick knows very well, that's based on chickpeas that you've soaked overnight. And then you haven't cooked them. You've blended them up with aromatic vegetables and spices and herbs, and then you fry them. And you certainly can soak beans if you want to cut down on the gas, the gas effect of beans, the musical fruit effects of the beans. And you will lose some flavor, though, especially with thinner skinned beans like black-eyed peas or black beans.
YONANThe most flavorful pot of black beans I've ever made have all been from beans that I didn't soak. You know, the liquid is inky black and really flavorful. If you soak the black beans first, it's kind of paler, and it's not quite as much flavor. And, to me, having to remember to soak them for, you know, eight to twelve hours just to save 25 percent of the cooking time, I usually feel like it's not worth it.
YONANWhen I do think of it and when I do soak them, I like to soak them in a salt brine. So, it helps soften them, and it certainly seasons them. But cooking them with ingredients like kombu, a dried seaweed that I like to use when I cook beans, also accomplishes a lot of the same thing that soaking does.
NNAMDII should mention that we talked earlier about the recipe for hummus that Joe put in his book that comes from Little Sesame. For listeners who want to give homemade hummus a try, we've shared Little Sesame’s hummus recipe at our website. You can go to kojoshow.org and find it there. And, Nick, speaking of hummus, Little Sesame made the news last week with a 6,000-pound shipment of chickpeas worth about $15,000 destined for your store went missing. Can you tell us more about the mystery of the missing chickpeas?
YONANThe chickpeas are still gone. (laugh)
WISEMANI swear I had nothing to do with it.
YONANYou know, we have a really strong relationship with our chickpea farmer. We actually directly source all of our chickpeas. His name's Casey Bailey. So, you know, I think, you know, we're laughing about it here. but it's tough. You know, it's a big percentage of his crop for the year. So, you know, we're working to resolve it.
YONANBut it's pretty cool digging into what Casey does. You know, Casey's sort of pioneered a regenerative agriculture around growing beans. And he has this long crop rotation that actually takes carbon from the air and fixes nitrogen in the soil. And it's actually one of our, you know, best tools in the fight against climate change. So, you know, the relationship with Casey and everything we're doing to sort of bring beans to the center of the plate, you know, at the end of the day is a pretty powerful tool in this sort of environmental battle.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, while Casey runs a very green farm, Montana is pretty far away from here, and we're encouraged to buy locally for the sake of the environment. Is that an option for Little Sesame?
YONANYou know, it's interesting. You know, different crops perform better in different places. And the climate of Montana is really well suited to growing chickpeas. You know, if you think about it, we're in these 1,400-square-foot shops in D.C., Casey's growing on 5,000 acres in Montana. So, the cost to access that kind of land on the East Coast would just be too difficult. So fortunately with beans they're dried and packed. And, you know, as you just said, you know, we're getting 6,000 pound shipments. So, we're able to sort of consolidate and limit the amount of transportation back and forth.
NNAMDIWe hear that you have offered an unusual reward for (laugh) this, that which the City Paper has dubbed "Garbanzo Gate." What is it? What's the reward?
YONANA year of free hummus. So, you know, anyone stumbles upon three palettes, 6,000 pounds -- which is about the size of an SUV of chickpeas -- shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll make good on our offer.
NNAMDIJoe, here's another piece of bean baggage, if you will, that we need to address. And we'll try to do it as delicately as possible, since you brought it up already. (laugh) Some people avoid beans because they equate them with flatulence.
NNAMDICan you explain the science behind this?
YONANSure. So, beans contain a category of sugars called oligosaccharides that we actually don't have the enzyme to easily digest. So, what happens is, in our guts, the oligosaccharides feed bacteria and actually ferments a little bit, which is what causes the flatulence. There are a lot of things you can do to reduce it. Soaking, as I mentioned, if it's particularly egregious or uncomfortable for you. Pressure cooking really cuts down on it. And then some traditional ingredients turn out to have really effective results when you cook with them, like kombu, which I mentioned, epazote in Mexican cooking, hing in Indian cooking, ginger, cumin, that kind of thing.
YONANIt turns out that kombu actually contains the enzyme that we lack. And so does Beano, the commercial product that, you know, you can take to help. But it's all in kombu, so that's really another way to do it. The other thing I always tell people is, you know, if you're adding beans to your diet, to start slowly and to be a little bit patient. There have been studies that show that when people added a half a cup of beans a day to their diet, the reports of their flatulence reduced by 75 percent after a couple of weeks. So, you've just go to get used it. (laugh)
YONANThe other school of thought, really, is that the same bacteria that are being fed in our gut that cause flatulence are actually good for your gut biome. So that's why I title that page in my book, I title it let the music play, the idea being maybe we should just all get used to it.
NNAMDIHere's an idea from Joyce in Bethesda, Maryland. Joyce, what's your idea?
JOYCEI do have an idea, but I remember my teacher used to always say, in the kitchen, gas is good. My idea is actually from TCRM, I volunteer, and I put hummus on pita bread and baked it for them during a volunteer opportunity. But now I just put hummus on pizza for the cheese. Delicious. But I now make even a crude hummus, where I just crush the chickpeas up with garlic and olive oil and a little tahini and jalapeno and put that on for the cheese, as well.
JOYCEBut the one thing that, also, I wanted to point out is garbanzo beans are great, but the other beans that are available are wonderful, too. And you can humify any bean. (laugh) I mean, you can make hummus from most (laugh) with any -- you know, black bean...
YONAN(laugh) That's a controversial statement. That's a controversial statement.
JOYCEI know. But, you know, sneak in a little cilantro, cumin and, you know, it's delicious for that.
NNAMDIThank you very much, Joyce. Thank you very much for your tips. Nick, you have founded restaurants with much pricier menus. Why did you want to go with a more affordable option, and how do beans fit into that choice?
WISEMANYou know, I think we're excited about being able to cook for a lot more people. Actually, just today, we announced we're opening a third store in Metro Center in D.C. So, you know, I think our goal was always to really sort of disrupt the way people are eating. I think people, like we said, wanted to access the healthy food for lunch that was filling, at a price point that was, you now, accessible. So, you know, that was why, you know, we built Little Sesame, was to sort of serve that customer and its' exciting. You know, we get to serve thousands of people a day, and we're just getting started.
NNAMDIYou might be able to help Jay from Gaithersburg, Joe. Jay writes: I grew up eating pinto beans with corn bread. They were all seasoned with pork. How can I get those flavors without using meat? (laugh)
YONANYeah, that was one of the missions of my book, really. And, you know, the recipes are 100 percent plant-based. And part of the reason was that I wanted to prove to people that beans have a delicious flavor on their own, and that they don't really need that salty piece of pork that everybody always talks about -- not that there's anything wrong with it. (laugh)
YONANSo, I do things like I really like spices, and some spices really add a little smoky flavor to the beans. One of my favorites that I had to be careful not to add to every recipe in the book is smoked paprika, or pimenton, the wonderful Spanish smoked paprika which brings that sort of savory kind of edge-of-smoke flavor to beans. There's a lot of other ways to do that, smoked salt, you know, pepper.
YONANIn the Nigerian black-eyed pea recipe in the book, really, the secret to it is the spice called -- I'm probably going to mispronounce it -- grains of selim, s-e-l-i-m. Please forgive me, correct me, callers. But it's a super-smoky spice. And when I talked to chefs and bloggers about how to pull off this dish and why mine wasn't tasting quite like the dishes that I was getting in African restaurants, they pointed me to that spice, and it made this huge difference. So, I think spices are your friends.
NNAMDIRichard tweets: I lived in India for two years and learned the delicious and infinite variety of bean-based meals, still a regular part of my diet. We're almost out of time, Joe, but you write about the positive environmental impact of beans. How does eating more beans help the planet?
YONANWell, beans require a lot fewer inputs than other crops. As Nick alluded to, mentioned a little bit earlier, they help replenish the soil. So, they're certainly something that I think can really help when you're thinking about climate change. You know, the United Nations, in 2016, declared the year the international year of pulses, probably for that reason. They also were thinking about how beans could really be key to feeding a growing planet, because of the shelf stability and the affordability.
NNAMDIJoe Yonan, he's the author of the new cookbook "Cool Beans." He's the food and dining editor of the Washington Post. Joe, always a pleasure.
YONANThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDINick Wiseman is the cofounder of the restaurant Little Sesame. Where's your new location going to be?
WISEMANIt's at 1120 G Street, in Metro Center.
NNAMDIAnd when do you open?
WISEMANWe'll open late spring, early summer.
NNAMDIThank you so much for joining us, Nick. This segment about beans was produced by Lauren Markoe. And our conversation about the D.C. sniper case was produced by Julie Depenbrock. Coming up tomorrow, Immigration and Customs Enforcement is conducting racial recognition searches on millions of Maryland drivers. It's alarming privacy advocates. Plus D.C. is full of monuments, but how are they funded? That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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