‘Cool Beans’ Is the Perfect Cookbook for This Moment in Beans
Joe Yonan’s approachable new book will teach you how to bring beans to their full potential — such as a creamy chickpea and cashew gazpacho
Joe Yonan, the food editor at the Washington Post, is “90 percent vegan.” He might be the only person in such a role to be a committed vegetarian, going so far as to mention “compassion for animals” in the introduction to his brand-new cookbook, Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, with 125 Recipes. And that commitment both to animals and food is on full display in the recipes here, divided into sections that delve into everything from dips to soups to burgers to hearty mains to desserts. There’s even a great aioli made with a chickpea base, proving how versatile and necessary to the vegan pantry a big selection of beans can be.
And he’s not a bean snob, though it was the quality of Rancho Gordo’s beans that made him understand their full potential. He understands and makes room for canned beans, gives instructions for Instant Pot bean cooking, and runs down when it’s necessary to soak and when it’s not. This is both an approachable and distinctive book, providing insight into the basics and a lot of neat flavor and technique tricks for those of us who are always already cooking a pot of beans — before we even know what we’re going to do with them.
I talked to Yonan about the book, his diet, and which bean comes best canned.
Tenderly: Are you vegan or vegetarian — or neither?
Joe Yonan: Well, you know, it’s been gradual, which is something that’s worked really well for me, so I didn’t wake up one day and say, “This is something I need to do.”
It really started, I don’t know, probably about 10 years ago. I remember I was having some friends over for dinner that weekend and I was trying to decide what to make, and I was looking around in my fridge and pantry and I opened up my freezer and there was — God, there was all of this meat. This farmers’ market, humanely raised meat that I had been buying for years. And I realized when I looked in my freezer that I hadn’t been cooking it for myself for a really long time. I was waiting for an excuse to make it. I was like, “Ohm people are coming over. I can finally cook this meat,” and I started asking myself what is that about.
I think that it started out of a sense of trying to eat really clean at home as a reaction to what I was doing when I was eating out with friends. And it really struck me and it also struck me that I had so much energy and was feeling so much better than I used to feel. So, going down the road more and more. The next step was obviously, “If I feel as much better from just not eating meat at home. You know, why not try to eat more vegetables and vegetarian at restaurants, and thankfully it was getting easier to do that, you know, particularly in D.C. I think the growth of small plates really helps — a lot of restaurants were just doing really interesting little plates and not falling into that protein, starch, side kind of thing.
For a period of about a year, I was writing a column for the Post on cooking for one and I look back on those columns and those recipes and in almost every one of them I say something like,
“As someone who’s eating less and less me now” or “as someone who’s eating very little meat” or “someone who’s mostly eating vegetarian now.” And finally, after a year I was like, you know what I’m actually vegetarian.
I think the first couple years of eating and cooking vegetarian, I fell into that trap of always depending on cheese and eggs in order to make something seem satisfying and I think it was really a reflection of a lack of sophistication about cooking vegetarian dishes right like, not really, you know, understanding how to have a lot of textures and flavors that were satisfying, and then I got better at it.
I haven’t declared myself vegan because there’s things for work sometimes I feel like it’s helpful for me to not be so disconnected from what’s happening with all of my coworkers and things that we’re writing about. But, but yeah, it’s great. I love it and I should say, it started from a health perspective but I also was very much thinking about an environmental perspective from the beginning. I was sort of shy to talk about the animal perspective, which has always been there. But I think I was just, I don’t know, it’s so loaded for so many people — they assume that you’re a Nazi about it. So I was sort of shy to talk about that, but that’s certainly been part of it too.
I was actually a little surprised to see in Cool Beans that you write in the introduction about compassion for animals, because it’s so rare for anyone to say that outside of a strictly vegan cookbook. A lot of the times, people write about how our diet has an impact on the environment and they’ll be like, “Well, you know, but I’m a food writer, so I have to eat meat and it would be professional liability not to eat meat” and it seems it’s difficult to reconcile that when everyone’s saying, “This is actually the best way to eat for the planet” and then say that’s outrageous to do.
I’m lucky because I have a team. I remember when I first wrote about this, there was a lot of reaction saying, “How can you run a food section without eating everything?” And I said, “Well, I used to edit travel and I hadn’t been to every city and country that we wrote about, but I’m a journalist and I know how to find that information and I supervise people.” I sort of feel like it’s the same way. I don’t have to eat everything. We’ve been doing obviously more and more plant-based recipes for many years, and I have been a big part of that and writing about it every week, but we also are a mainstream publication.
To get to the book: Did you know beans were going to be so cool when you started writing it?
I first started really thinking about this idea in 2016 when the United Nations named it the international year of pulses. I was so fascinated by that, because it’s usually not a food-related year. I, of course, have loved beans for so long. And they articulated the sustainability and the fact that beans could be a key to feed a growing planet — an aspect that I hadn’t only kind of vaguely thought about.
But, you know, as I was working on the book — and I’ve been working on it in earnest for a couple of years — I did think that the combination of the Instant Pot, a growing interest in plant-based cooking, and certainly the interest in heirloom beans from companies like Rancho Gordo might possibly come together to create a perfect storm for beans being sexy and cool.
When I first actually proposed the idea to my publisher I said, “You know, I want to make beans sexy again” and then I had to stop using the word “again” because we realized that they had never been sexy in the first place. But I’ve been thrilled to see people really come around. I do think that they just got really hip. It does feel like it became kind of good timing.
What are your recommendations for someone who might only be able to use canned beans?
You know, I certainly do write a lot about the glories of cooking beans from dried. You get two great things, you get fabulous beans and you also get that incredible cooking liquid, which is just gold. But canned beans are really an incredible product. I get irritated sometimes: I’ll post a recipe for something that calls for canned beans and sometimes there are people who say, “You should make your beans from dried.” And I’m like, “Look, I wrote a whole cookbook encouraging people to cook beans from dried.”
But you kind of can’t argue with the convenience and the quality, really. You and I wouldn’t even be talking about canned corn or canned beets or canned mushrooms. Tomatoes, maybe.
Canned beans are just they’re an excellent product so I would say probably my favorite bean in a can is the chickpea. I just feel like they hold up. They keep their texture.
White Gazpacho with Chickpeas and Cashews
4 to 6 servings
This is a riff on the classic Spanish soup ajo blanco, sometimes called white gazpacho: a from-the-pantry puree of bread, almonds, garlic, water, olive oil, and vinegar. Chickpeas, my favorite legume, sub in for the bread (adding more nutrition) and creamy cashews for the almonds. Serve in shot glasses or demitasse cups as an elegant starter or passed appetizer, or in larger bowls for a first dinner course.
- Ice water
- One and 3/4 cups raw cashews, plus more for garnish
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 2/3 cup cooked or canned no-salt-added chickpeas (from one 15-ounce can), drained and rinsed (reserve the liquid/aquafaba)
- 1/2 cup aquafaba (chickpea cooking liquid or liquid from the canned chickpeas)
- Two garlic cloves
- Two tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- Crunchy Spiced Roasted Chickpeas, for garnish (optional)
- Chive blossoms and/or mint leaves, for garnish
Combine 2 1/2 cups ice water, the cashews, olive oil, chickpeas, aquafaba, garlic, vinegar, and salt in a high-powered blender, such as a Vitamix. Puree until smooth. If the soup seems too thick, add more ice water, a few tablespoons at a time, until you have reached your desired consistency. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Chill the soup until very cold, one to two hours (or as long as overnight).
To serve, divide among serving bowls, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with cashews or roasted chickpeas, if desired, and chive blossoms and/or mint leaves.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, with 125 Recipes by Joe Yonan, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.