A Love-Letter to Legumes: ‘Bean by Bean’ Review

I’ve got a new favorite cookbook and I want everyone to know about it. I received “Bean by Bean” by Crescent Dragonwagon as a birthday gift from Allen, and I had never heard of the book before. It wasn’t on my “birthday cookbooks” list. But it is far and away the most diverse, useful and delicious cookbook I own.


“Bean by Bean” is a love letter to what Dragonwagon explains is the food of the world. Beans, she explains, are natural marvels, grown all over the world and eaten by people for thousands of years. “You’ll see more life than seems possible in something so tiny,” she says in the introduction.

I started reading the book like I often do with a new cookbook: flipping through to find recipes that intrigue me. I didn’t get to test out the cookbook until after school was out, though, and I discovered this book may be worth actually reading. This, of course, can be evidenced by the myriad of Post-Its adorning my copy:


Drangonwagon’s descriptions make the recipes waft off the page, without even cooking them. Once I began to go back through the book more meticulously, I found gems I had previously overlooked: a most-simple but divinely decadent Indian Dahl, finished with caramelized onions that elevate the dish beyond your wildest lentil dreams:

dal3Or, on the menu this week: Tofu salad with green beans and creamy thai-basil dressing, for which she includes a step-by-step recipe for the best baked tofu you can imagine.

I’ve also made beans from scratch successfully for the first time ever. Chickpeas prepared at home from scratch taste infinitely better than the ones from a can, and only require enough forethought to soak them and stir them 4 times over two hours.

chickpeasDragonwagon offers a few different methods for cooking dried beans, both for the “plan-ahead kind of gal” (i.e. ME) or a quick-soaking method for whenever one gets “in a beany mood and forgets to get ’em soaking overnight.”

What I love about this cookbook is her simple, conversational tone, despite how delicious her recipes are. There’s no pretentiousness here…Dragonwagon just loves beans and wants you to love them too. Here’s a passage from her introduction to simple green bean salads:

“Once chilled, these cooked green beans have the potential to go in multiple directions…but let’s look at them here plainly as salads to be, your refrigerated vegetable mad money. (Do people still keep mad money, as my mother used to? A twenty-dollar bill stashed here and there and then deliberately half-forgotten for the sheer pleasure of later rediscovery and utilization?) Cooked green beans are your in-fridge equivalent.”

I’ve made quite a few recipes from this book, and I know I’ll be trying quite a few more…perhaps them all. This book, I can already tell, is becoming my food bible, the cornerstone of my cookbook collection. Some of my favorites so far:

salad2Black bean and sweet potato salad with honey-cilantro vinaigrette

salad1Sugar snap pea, orange and spinach salad

hummusHummus, made from scratch using chickpeas I cooked myself.

Homemade (from dried beans) refried beans:

beansAnd endless amounts of green beans:

green beans

salad2“Bean by Bean” is a guide to the food of the world, the life-giving and yet-so-humble legume, versatile, nutritious, and economical enough to stand on those merits alone, and yet elevates itself by being delicious.

The bean, the most accessible food-stuff in the world, should be inviting, and Dragonwagon makes it so. She invites us along into her kitchen to learn what she already knows about the world’s most powerful plant.

“Let us participate, than, and celebrate, sprouting, growing, making tendrils; maturing, harvesting and being harvested; cooking, eating, and being eaten; letting the next generation rediscover the poignant joy of the feast. Let us join hands at a table the size of the world. Let’s eat.”



2 thoughts on “A Love-Letter to Legumes: ‘Bean by Bean’ Review

  1. Pingback: Beating the Heat | Expeditions of Elise

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