Not feeling the enthusiasm? Pick up Crescent Dragonwagon’s new book, Bean by Bean – yes, I mentioned it in my last column – and work your pleasurable way through it. Subtitled “More than 175 recipes for fresh beans, dried beans, cool beans, hot beans, savory beans, even sweet beans,” it’s a go-to book for everything from hummus to chili to dessert.
Crescent’s name is not only striking but familiar – I must have begun hearing it when she published her first bean book, back in the ‘70s. Or was it The Commune Cookbook way back then, too? Certainly her Cornbread Gospels is a name familiar, as is Dragon’s own – familiar AND unforgettable! Audacious.
Although I’ve never met Crescent, I know she lives in Westminster West now and regularly traverses the co-ops and farmers’ markets, art galleries and grocery stores in that area. And, because we are Facebook friends, I am recipient (along with nineteen hundred and fifty other ‘friends’) of her many involved and interesting status updates from which we’ve been able to follow the finishing and publishing of this book, her visits to her famous mother, THE Charlotte Zolotov of children’s literature, and Crescent’s own leadership of Fearless Writing Workshops. We ‘friends’ have gotten to know her husbands (late and present), her cats, and her ponds, what she’s had for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, what time she goes to bed, and wakes up, and what she considers a strong way of life, which must include walks, work-outs, yoga, and naps. Generous she is about her life. Transparent.
Her writing style is warmth personified, sometimes lyrical, her vocabulary colorful, her recipes imaginative. Savor this: Tanzanian Black-Eyed Pea & Coconut Soup... with Bananas! Doesn’t that sound wonderful? But never fear, the book is also a complete and well-organized compendium of beany dishes from hummous through soups, stews, chilis and salads (Yes! nothing better than cold white beans with fresh sage, olive oil and garlic sprinkled over), all the way to desserts – she is proud of her Rose of Persia Cake.
In my last column I told you I would post her recipe for Chile Mole on my blog. Instead I decided to give it to you up-front and here it is. I was about to say that you would not find a call-out for chili powder in this recipe, because the long list of spices and seeds preclude it, but... there it is, 1 tablespoon of hot chili powder after the chilis, cumin, coriander, oregano have been added. Well, Dragon, I guess I’ll have to add idiosyncratic to my list of descriptives!
(I’ve left this recipe almost entirely in Crescent’s words and formats. The “fixins” she speaks of are any garnishes you like – cheese, sour cream, avocados, salsa, raw onion, cilantro...)
CD’s Chili Mole
Serves 8 to 10 with Fixins
If you’ve gotten a little bored with the regular old bowl of red, try this. It’s pronounced “MO-lay,” as in the famed Mexican sauce, not “mole” as in little pesky animals who leave holes in your lawn. This is a superb chili. Its taste is indefinable and elusive, its texture decidedly rich. Although you can certainly serve Chili Mole with all the traditional Fixins, it works beautifully served in a more minimalist style, the better to approach the complex parade of flavors that rolls over your tongue with each bite. Please promise me you won’t be put off by the length of the ingredients list—it’s mostly spices—or the seeming peculiarity of some of the ingredients: This is one you will not want to miss. Note: I adore the crunch of the occasional whole coriander seed in the finished chili. If you don’t, omit the coriander seeds, or use 1½ teaspoons ground coriander instead.
For the beans:
For the sauté:
- 1 pound dried black beans, picked over, rinsed, and soaked overnight
- 2½ to 3 quarts any well-flavored vegetable stock (or a 12-ounce bottle of beer plus enough water or vegetable stock to make up the difference)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 ancho chile, stemmed
- 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/3 cup dark raisins (I like monukkas)
For the finish:
- Vegetable oil cooking spray
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 2 large onions, chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed, seeds left in for heat or removed for mildness, chopped
- 1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
- ¼ teaspoon aniseed
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Tiny pinch of ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika (if desired, ½ teaspoon can be smoked)
- 1 tablespoon hot chili powder
- 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1. Drain the soaked black beans and rinse them well. Place them in a large, heavy pot and add enough stock to cover them to a depth of 1½ inches. Add the bay leaves, ancho chile, jalapeño, and lots and lots of freshly ground black pepper (you can hardly add too much). Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1 hour. Lift the lid and add the raisins. Continue cooking until the beans are nearly tender and the raisins have more or less disintegrated, 30 to 60 minutes more.
- 1 can (16 ounces) chopped tomatoes in juice
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- 1 to 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, diced
- 2 tablespoons creamy, natural, unhydrogenated peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon tahini (or 2 tablespoons freshly toasted sesame seeds)
- 1 chipotle chile in adobo, stemmed, with 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
- 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey (optional)
2. Meanwhile, about 20 minutes or so before the beans are done, spray a large, heavy skillet with oil. Place it over medium heat, add the olive oil and, when it’s hot, the onions. Sauté the onions until they start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the bell pepper, jalapeño, and poblano and sauté for another 2 minutes. Then add all the remaining spices, lower the heat slightly, and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until it just becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove the sauté from the heat.
3. Scrape the sauté into the simmering beans. Deglaze the pan with a little bean stock, stirring to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return this liquid to the beans.
4. Add the tomatoes and the tomato paste to the bean pot, and stir well. Simmer for another 10 minutes, then maintain at a low simmer while you continue with the recipe.
5. Place the chocolate, peanut butter, tahini, and chipotle in adobo in a food processor. Add a generous ladleful of the simmering beans (including the whole ancho and jalapeño, if you can find them), and buzz to make a thick, highly seasoned paste. Scrape this into the bean pot, turn the heat down as low as possible, and add salt to taste—it will take quite a bit. Simmer slowly, partially covered, until the seasonings are well blended, about 20 minutes longer.
6. Just before serving, pick out the bay leaves and the ancho stem. If you like, mash a couple of ladlefuls of the beans against the sides of the pot to thicken the chili slightly. Taste for seasonings: You want heat (perhaps a little more cayenne or adobo), richness (more chocolate), a little sweetness (add agave syrup as needed). Serve, with the optional Fixins, right away, or let it come to room temperature, then refrigerate it, covered, overnight and reheat it very, very gently (or in a slow-cooker) the next day. (It’s much better after an overnight in the fridge.)
Thank you, Crescent! Bean by Bean is a lovely, complete, energetic, beautifully rendered book!