Chef Column: Legumes not limited to vegetarians

Nobody there is that doesn’t love a bean,
If not the royal Navy bean, then the wax bean,
the soybean, the green bean, the black bean — the
pot is large, it contains multitudes…

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s bean?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Had we but world enough, and time,
this coyness, Lady, were no crime.
But, at my back, I always hear
a pot of beans bubbling near.

How do I cook them? Let me count the ways —
boiling, steaming, frying, baking.
And if these verses may thee move,
Sweet Lady, come live with me
and be my love. And if this fare
you disapprove, come live with me
and please be my cook.

“Bean Soup, Or a Legume
Miscellany” by Phillip Paradis

The large family of flowering plants that have double-seamed pods containing a row of seeds are called legumes. They include beans, peas, lentils and peanuts. Their history is as old as civilization itself. Already by 6000 BCE, legumes were a staple food, providing protein to people in Asia, Europe and the Americas. When legumes are combined with rice they become a complete protein food, containing all the amino acids, thus becoming a substitute for meat. Some of Rome’s most distinguished families were named after beans: Fabius (fava bean), Lentulus (lentil), Piso (pea) and Cicero (chick pea).
Today, legumes are available dried, canned, fresh and frozen and are regaining popularity due to their huge contributions to a healthy diet. All the legume plants take large amounts of nitrogen from the air and convert it to protein in the seeds. When the plants are plowed under they return nitrogen to the soil, creating an organic fertilizer. They are also high in minerals and vitamins and a great source of dietary fiber, especially the soluble kind. And, unlike meat, they are low in fat and contain no cholesterol.
Most legumes are pretty inexpensive and whether used as a vegetarian entrée or as an accompaniment to meat, poultry or fish, they represent an intelligent addition to your diet.

French Lentils with
Sesame Crusted Salmon

Due to their high protein, mineral, vitamin and fiber content, lentils are one of the world’s healthiest foods. They come in many colors and sizes, with the brown variety being most common. The tiny French lentils used in the following recipe have a hard exterior and a soft, creamy inside. They should not be overcooked.
Purchase 4 portions of naturally fed salmon (or wild salmon). Combine 1 egg white and 2 tablespoons cornstarch in a small dish and brush onto the top of the salmon. Spread 1/2 cup sesame seeds onto a sheet pan and press the salmon into the seeds. Refrigerate. Rinse 1 cup French lentils and place them in a saucepan with 2 cups water, one quarter of a peeled onion, 2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs of thyme and the zest of 1 lemon. (Do not add salt.) Simmer, covered, until lentils are just tender, about 25 minutes. Drain, remove onion and bay leaves, and set aside.
At service time sauté 1 cup chopped scallions in 2 tablespoons olive oil for 2 minutes and add 2 cups diced plum tomatoes and the cooked lentils. Continue to cook until all ingredients are hot and stir in 2 tablespoons chopped dill, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.
Add 1/4 cup olive oil to a large sauté pan and heat to shimmering. Place the salmon with the sesame crust down in the hot pan and sauté about 3 minutes. Turn the salmon and reduce the heat to medium. Continue cooking until salmon is opaque and flakes easily. Serve over the lentils and garnish with lemon wedges and parsley.

Black Bean Enchiladas
The black bean has been a staple of Mesoamerica for at least 3,000 years. Its long roots make it well suited for the desert climates of Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
Rinse 1 pound of dried black beans under cold water and pick out any foreign matter. Place them in a saucepan and add 6 cups cold water. Bring to a boil, cover and remove from the heat. Let rest 1 hour.
Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in a sauté pan and add 2 cups chopped onions. Cook until they are soft and add 2 tablespoons minced garlic. Cook briefly and add contents of pan to the beans and water. Simmer the beans, covered, for 1 1/2 hours until very soft and the liquid begins to thicken. Pour off half the liquid and purée half the beans. Add the purée back to the pan with the beans and season with 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon ground cumin, 1 tablespoon chili powder and 1 tablespoon sea salt. Simmer for 15 minutes and set aside.
Grate 1 pound sharp cheddar cheese and set aside along with 1 finely chopped red onion. Open 1 15-ounce can of tomato sauce. Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons canola oil, 2 tablespoons tomato sauce, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin and 1/2 teaspoon chili powder. Place 12 small corn tortillas in the pan in batches of 3. Coat them with the sauce and let them soften in the pan for about 2 minutes each. Remove and place on a sheet pan lined with paper towels.
To assemble the enchiladas, spread a spoonful of black bean sauce on each tortilla and top it with grated cheddar and chopped red onion. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and a little salt and pepper. Roll up the tortillas and place seam side down in a small baking pan. Spoon about 1 cup tomato sauce over the tortillas and sprinkle with 1/2 cup grated cheddar, 1/4 cup chopped red onion and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro. Finish by chopping 1/2 cup of pecans and sprinkling them over all.
Cover with foil and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve with sour cream.
Serves 4-6.

Sugar Snap Peas and
Sesame Shrimp

The sugar snap pea is a hybrid of the English pea and the snow pea. Peas are one of the few legumes that can be eaten fresh. They are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and protein. They are also one of the local vegetables that signal spring on the North Fork.
Purchase 1 pound of shrimp, peel and devein them, removing the tails. Place them in a bowl with 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 teaspoons shredded ginger, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 2 tablespoons sesame seeds. Toss together and refrigerate while prepping the vegetables.
Bring to a boil 2 1/2 cups water in a saucepan and add 1 cup brown rice and 1 teaspoon sea salt. Simmer 30 minutes and turn off the heat. Rinse 1 pound of fresh sugar snap peas and remove the strings along the side of the pods. Slice 1 red bell pepper into 2-inch pieces. Finely chop 4 scallions.
Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons sesame oil and 1 tablespoon canola oil. When oil is shimmering, add the marinated shrimp and toss quickly to avoid burning the sesame seeds. When just barely cooked, remove shrimp and set aside. Add a little more canola oil and the peppers, snap peas and scallions. Dissolve 1 tablespoon cornstarch in 3/4 cup chicken broth and add to the pan along with the shrimp. Toss together and season with 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar and a few drops of Tabasco. Serve over the brown rice.
Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected].