Friday, January 8, 2010

The Bean Team

I’ve received quite a few interesting comments over my recent legume posting. A recent New York Times feature article by Mark Bittman on elevating simple legumes, stimulated my thinking again about this under- appreciated food.

One of the reasons I believe the lowly bean has not been accepted in this country is that unlike much of the world, we in the U.S. don’t have a national bean. Come to think of it, there are a great many things that either we do or don’t do that the rest of the world does. The Italians have the cannellini, borlotti and ceci, the French have the flageolet, the Latin countries have the black and pinto beans, the Asians have adzuki and soy and the Indians, along with many other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries have the chickpea and a wide variety of lentils. With the exception of black eye peas, navy and red kidney beans, there really isn’t much of a bean tradition in this country.

There have been some attempts to promote heirloom bean varieties by Rancho Gordo in Napa and Phipps ranch down south, but much of their limited production is oriented toward the likes of Thomas Keller, of French Laundry fame, and his brethren of celebrity chefs.

In my Pre – Vegan days as a youngster living in New York, the only beans that I was exposed to were Heinz vegetarian baked beans. They were the traditional accompaniment to my corned beef and pastrami sandwiches that I routinely consumed at the neighborhood deli. Occasionally when my mother wasn’t up to cooking dinner we would have ‘’franks and beans’’ which was the only other time that beans of any sort touched my lips.

It wasn’t until many years later, when I became vegetarian, that I become passionate about beans. I consume some variety of legume every morning for breakfast in the form of a bean or lentil spread that I consume with some whole grain bread. I prefer not to use tahini, which is an essential ingredient in traditional hummus, because in my opinion it tends to dominate the flavor profile of whatever legume you are using. The name hummus has also been contemporized to now include almost any type of bean accompanied by a variety of spices.

The marketing of the portobello mushroom is a good example of how we can create a sexy persona for our new national bean. Portobello is a created name for a more mature cremini or brown mushroom. What was essentially a throw away product became a must have item because of some clever marketing. We can do a similar campaign for whichever bean we choose to publicize.
I’m proposing a Bean Team be organized to name and promote our new national bean. Imagine the possibilities…

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