You have probably noticed that plant-based diets are much more common than they used to be. Specialist grocery stores and cafes continue to offer their vegan products just as they always have, but now, major supermarkets and popular restaurant chains are selling many types of vegan food at competitive prices.
Many new vegans find pre-prepared plant-based versions of meat dishes delicious and appealing. However, to permanently reduce the amount of animal products in your diet, you must learn all about protein-rich plant products such as beans. Read on to find out about cooking using beans.
How to buy beans
Before starting out on a recipe, you should consider the best way for you to buy beans. Beans are usually available pre-cooked in tins and dried in bags. Dried beans are cheap and will last in your cupboard for a very long time. However, they can take a long time to prepare. You need to soak and boil them for several hours before including them in your dish.
By contrast, tinned/canned beans come pre-cooked, and they are ready to use as soon as you have rinsed them in running water. Dried beans are great if you are cooking in large quantities and you have the time to prepare them. Tinned beans are perfect if you are cooking for yourself or a small family. The decision is up to you.
Butter beans, a store cupboard favourite
The first bean you need to know about is the butter bean. Butter beans, also known as lima beans, are hearty and versatile, and absorb flavour very well. Try adding them to any tomato-based pasta sauce or ratatouille you are preparing, letting them simmer in the sauce until they are soft and full of flavour. Alternatively, they make a delicious side dish in themselves. For example, when they are fried with garlic, rosemary, and chili, or baked in the Greek dish gigantes plaki. Once you start using butter beans, you may find you want to put them in everything.
Black beans for spicy dishes
Black beans are another versatile and delicious bean. They have a mellow earthy flavour like red kidney beans, but they are smaller and look slightly nicer. They work especially well in hot and spicy dishes. Fry them with cumin seeds and paprika for a simple addition to burritos, or let them stew in a vegan chili with sweet potatoes, peppers, paprika, and cayenne.
Surprisingly, sweet dishes can work well with black beans. Black beans help to give texture to cakes and nutritional value to dishes that might otherwise be unhealthy. If you are feeling adventurous, try black beans in chocolate brownies, or combine them with peanut butter, cocoa, and your preferred sweeteners to make a great dip.
Italian-style vegan cuisine with borlotti beans
Borlotti beans are ubiquitous in Italian cookery, even though they originate in South America. They may not have the pizzazz of other beans, but they are perfectly at home in hearty dishes like pasta e fagioli (Italian pasta and beans), where they blend into rich savoury flavours and textures for the perfect one-pot dinner. Borlotti beans are also at the heart of any good minestrone soup. If you end up with a can of borlotti beans that you aren’t sure what to do with, their applications are very flexible — for example, they can be used to make a delicious pan of refried beans.
Chickpeas: the ultimate bean
Finally, this article can’t conclude without mentioning chickpeas. The chickpea (also known as the garbanzo bean) has a truly international reputation that no other bean can match. Entire books have been written about the ways chickpeas are prepared around the world.
Cook chickpeas in a chana dahl and serve with rice for a warming Indian-style meal. Roast them in paprika for an on-the-go snack. Add them to a salad to keep your hunger at bay all day. And above all, get used to making hummus, that favourite dip of vegans everywhere!
Conclusion: more beans!
If you are trying to go vegan, meat-free sausages and burgers are a great start. But before long, you may find them expensive and repetitive. Beans are cheap and give you a lot of the protein you need as a vegan. Just remember. Unlike sources of animal proteins, beans will also give you a big portion of carbohydrates — so be careful about the quantity of rice, pasta, or bread you are eating alongside your beans. Otherwise, beans are a low-risk product that you can bring into your life straight away.