Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bean Cakes

You might be thinking, "What?" I thought so, too, as I read it in a vegetarian cookbook I recently picked up at the library. By the way, I highly recommend this book: "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian - Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food" by Mark Bittman, a food writer for the New York Times where he writes a column called "The Minimalist". The book is enormous - almost 1,000 pages long with over 2,000 recipes and variations. I do think the book is worth a look.

So, in my quest to eat less meat and more beans, I was looking for Bittman's take on beans to see if he had any interesting ideas for how to prep them other than in my usual way: soups and salads. Beans are incredibly healthy: they are low in fat, high in fiber and when combined with rice provide a complete protein. So as I'm paging through his book I came across a recipe for "Bean Griddlecakes" and made them the other night. They were really good. Here's the basic recipe:

Bean Griddlecakes

2 cups cooked or canned beans (any type, but see my notes below), drained until as dry as possible
1/4 - 1/2 cup half and half or milk, plus more if needed (recipe called for 1 cup but I thought that too much)
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbsp. melted butter or oil of your choice, plus more for cooking the cakes
3/4 - 1 cup flour (recipe called for 1 cup but I used less because I had less liquid)
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mash the beans with a fork or potato masher. Add the half and half or milk, egg, and the butter or oil. Stir together until completely combined. Add the flour and salt and pepper. Stir with fork to fold in and add more half and half if necessary to reach the consistency of thick pancake batter. Heat a skillet (preferably non-stick) and add oil. When hot, spoon batter in to form 3-4" pancakes. Cook about 4 minutes per side. Keep cooked cakes in a warm oven while you cook the remaining batches.

Here's what I added, otherwise I foresaw these to be incredibly boring: I used pinto beans so I decided to go with Mexican flavors. To the batter I added 1 Tbsp. each chopped oregano and cilantro, 2 cloves minced garlic, and 1 finely chopped green onion. After the cakes were cooked on 1 side I sprinkled on some grated cheddar cheese and allowed it to melt while side 2 was cooking. I could also have added minced jalapeno, hot red pepper flakes or cayenne to the batter, or served them with salsa or pico de gallo, sour cream, or crumbled queso fresco if I'd had any of those things. I can also see these cakes being done "Italian style" using white cannellini beans, and for herbs: parsley and thyme, maybe rosemary, olive oil and topped with tomato sauce sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Alternately I could have made them Moroccan style with chickpeas (garbanzos) and served them with grilled eggplant and harissa (a spicy red bell pepper type of chili sauce). Using Edamame and served with teriyaki sauce, they could have been done with an Asian slant.

The point is that the lowly bean can be transformed into something more interesting than what I've usually done with them by making them into griddlecakes. I'm delighted to have discovered a new way to use them.

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