From Hummus to Minestrone: Taking the Pulse of Beans in Global Cuisine
- by bonappetit
Black, pinto, kidney, cannellini, Great Northern, cranberry, garbanzo, fava, and – yes, even the hated lima – beans come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, each with its unique flavor and texture. Beans can be boiled, sautéed, fried, roasted, mashed, and pureed, making them incredibly versatile in the kitchen. They can be used in soups, stews, salads, dips, spreads, and — surprisingly — even desserts.
Across the globe and in many cultures, the use of beans and pulses as a primary ingredient has been a cornerstone to available flavors, textures, and nutrition. The cultivation of legumes can be traced back as far as the Bronze Age. In fact, archeological evidence shows that beans were a staple in ancient diets as long as 10,000 years ago. From beans placed in the burial chambers of King Tut to the ruins of ancient Mayan cities, these staple seeds have been around as long as society itself. From the treasured soybeans of Asia to the Great White Beans of Peru, these companions to human social development have been a valuable complement to our success as a species.
To celebrate the almighty bean and its role in global foods this Earth Day, let’s take a tour of the world’s cuisines that feature beans:
Latin America: Latin American cuisines are known for their use of beans, particularly black beans and kidney beans. In Mexico, beans are used in a variety of dishes, including as a staple side dish like refried beans, and black bean soup In Brazil, the national dish, feijoada, is made with black beans, pork, and sausage. In Peru, the popular dish lomo saltado features beans, beef, and vegetables.
Try our Latin America-inspired recipes:
Middle East: The cuisines of the Middle East feature a range of pulses, including chickpeas, lentils, and fava beans. In Lebanon, the popular dish, hummus, is made from chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic. In Egypt, ful medames is a popular dish made from fava beans, served with eggs and pita bread. In Morocco, lentil soup is a staple, made with lentils, vegetables, and spices.
Try our Middle East-inspired recipes:
India: Indian cuisines features a variety of pulses, including chickpeas, lentils, and kidney beans. In India, dal is a popular dish made from lentils or beans, cooked with spices and served with rice or bread. Chana masala is another staple dish made from chickpeas, cooked with tomatoes, onions, and spices.
Try our India-inspired recipes:
Africa: The cuisines of Africa feature a range of pulses, including black-eyed peas, kidney beans, and cowpeas. In Nigeria, jollof rice is a popular dish made with rice, tomatoes, onions, and black-eyed peas. In Ethiopia, injera is a sourdough flatbread made from teff flour and served with a variety of stews, including one made with lentils called misir wot.
Try our Africa-inspired recipes:
Asia: Asian cuisines features a range of pulses, including soybeans, mung beans, and adzuki beans. In China, doufu nao is a popular dish made from tofu and soybeans, served with a spicy sauce. In Japan, adzuki beans are used in a variety of desserts, including anko, a sweet red bean paste used in cakes and mochi. In Korea, kongbap is a popular dish made from soybeans and rice, cooked together with vegetables and spices. In Thailand, khao tom is a sweet sticky rice pudding made with mung beans and coconut milk.
Try our Asia-inspired recipes:
Europe: The cuisines of Europe also include several dishes that feature beans. In Italy, pasta e fagioli is a classic dish made with small pasta shapes and cannellini beans in a tomato-based broth. In Spain, the national dish, paella, is made with rice, vegetables, and often includes beans such as garbanzos or fava beans, along with seafood or meats. In France, cassoulet is a hearty stew made with white beans, pork sausage, and confit duck or other meats. In England, baked beans on toast is a classic breakfast dish made with navy beans and a sweet tomato sauce, often served with grilled mushrooms and sausage.
Try our Europe-inspired recipes:
North America: American cuisine also includes a variety of dishes that feature beans. Historically, indigenous Americans grew beans alongside squash and corn in a combination referred to as the three sisters. In the Southern United States, red beans and rice is a popular dish made with kidney beans, rice, and a spicy sausage or ham hock. Another Southern favorite is black-eyed peas – a dish thought to have been brought to the United States by African slaves – is often served on New Year’s Day for good luck. In the Northeast, baked beans are a staple, often made with navy beans and molasses. A popular Canadian dish is tourtière, a pie that often includes beans as a filling ingredient, along with small amounts of meat.
Try our North America-inspired recipes: