Bean dip. Most of us think of this little pop-top can when we think of bean dip. But interestingly, you can find homemade bean dips, spreads and purees in cultures all over the world. And you can reproduce them at home to good effect. The bean dishes you make at home will be healthier, fresher and certainly more interesting than what you find in a can.
Husband and I recently took the opportunity to cook up and sample a world tour of bean dips, spreads and purees.
Puree de Lentilles au Celeri – first stop, France, for puree of lentils with celery. I found this recipe in “Provence: the Beautiful Cookbook ” by Richard Olney. I used the little green lentils from France called Lentil du Puy. I bought mine at Whole Foods in the bulk section, but you can certainly get them online . These lentils are small, round and speckled. They are supposed to hold their shape very well when cooked. As I was making a puree, that was not a big consideration!
Lentils du Puy
I cooked the lentils in a pot with thyme, bay leaf, two garlic cloves and a large chunk each of celery and carrot. When the lentils were very tender, I fished out the vegetables and aromatics. I pureed the lentil in my food processor until they were quite smooth. I put the lentil puree back in the pot to heat through, then moved it to a serving dish where I topped it with chopped fresh celery, chopped parsley and a chunk of butter. The butter added richness and the celery gave it a nice fresh crunch.
Lentil Puree with Celery
I served that with a homemade seeded ciabatta. That and a tart green salad and we had dinner! Husband actually liked this quite well, to his surprise. He doesn’t generally like lentils.
Bessara – Berber bean puree from Morocco. This recipe came from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks “Flatbreads & Flavors: A Baker’s Atlas” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. Making the dip was a snap. The side dishes I made were a different matter!
To make the bean puree, I cooked a half cup of small red beans and two large garlic cloves in my little crock pot until the beans were tender. I put the cooled beans and garlic into my food processor along with dried red pepper flakes, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, a good squeeze of lemon and salt to taste.
To accompany the bessara, I made the North African spice blend, harissa. In my mortar and pestle, I ground up a teaspoon each of lightly dry-roasted coriander seeds, caraway seeds and cumin seeds. Then I added two cloves of garlic and a good handful of reconstituted dried red chili arbol. I pounded away until that was a coarse paste. I added olive oil and pounded some more until I had a smooth paste. Making a paste in your mortar and pestle is HARD WORK. No one ever tells you that!
Mortar and Pestle - grinding spices for harissa
I made a loaf of the traditional Moroccan anise bread, ksra, to serve as well. You can find that recipe in Flatbreads and Flavors. Husband doesn’t usually like things that have an anise or licorice flavor, but he did like this bread pretty well.
Ksra; anise bread ready for the oven
I served the bean puree, ksra and harissa with some pickled vegetables. We ate this as dinner. Husband had some roasted chicken as well. The anise bread was good, but you could certainly serve this delicious puree with store bought pita.
Berber bean puree, harissa and ksra
Hummus – The Middle East. Ten years ago, who even knew what hummus was? Now it is so common that you can find several brands and several varieties in any grocery store, no matter how remote. Store-bought hummus is pretty good, but I set out to make a better one. And I think I succeeded.
Several years ago, Husband, Daughter and I spent Christmas in London. We had several fantastic meals at a restaurant called Sofra. They started every meal with the best hummus we have ever had. It was extremely flavorful and had a smooth, creamy texture. I wanted to see if I could duplicate that.
I started off with a hummus recipe from the cookbook “Plenty” by Yotam Ottolenghi. I cooked 1/2 cup of chickpeas until they were tender. After letting them cool, I drained the chickpeas and reserved the cooking liquid. Then I pulled the skin off of each and every chickpea. It’s not hard to do. It just takes some patience and some organizational skills.
I put the skinned chickpeas into the food processor along with two heaping tablespoons of tahini, a good squeeze of lemon, one clove of minced garlic and salt to taste. I whizzed that around for a bit and then checked the texture. I added the reserved cooking liquid a tablespoon at a time until I got it to the exact texture I wanted. Husband describes that as the texture of melted peanut butter.
This was excellent hummus. I think the secret is skinning those chickpeas!
Hummus with crispy pita
Frijoles Refritos – classic Mexican refried beans. For this recipe I referred to the cookbook, “Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen“. I cooked a half cup of pinto beans. When they were tender, I put a large skillet on medium heat and sauteed a half of a small onion, finely chopped in olive oil. When the onions were soft and starting to brown I added two cloves of chopped garlic and let that cook for a minute or two. Then I add the drained pinto beans along with enough of their liquid to keep things moist. I also added a little bit of chile powder for flavor and kick. Let that cook together for a few minutes.
Put the whole mixture in the food processor and pulse until you reach the desired consistency. I like my refried beans to be quite smooth, you may prefer more texture. Put the mixture back in the skillet to heat through. When you are ready to serve, top it with some grated cheese.
I served the refritos with guacamole, homemade fresh salsa and tortilla chips. This is my kind of food! I could eat this every day. Rick Bayless’s refried beans were ever so much better than the canned variety!
Frijoles refritos, salsa and guacamole
Dal and Chapati – India. The way that I understand dal, it is a thick soupy bean dish that would be served every day in an Indian household. The dish “dal” is made with beans called “dal”. There is a huge variety of dal beans. And there is a huge variety in the way that the dal dish can be prepared. I think that it can be served in a thinner version that would be more soup-like, or it can be served in a thicker version that would be be eaten in a scooped up fashion using a flat bread as a utensil. Sort of like a dip…that’s what I was going for here!
I heard once that the trick to dal is to cook the beans until they are tender. Then you cook up all the seasonings in a separate skillet and add that to the beans. So I hunted down a recipe that used that technique. In the end I sort of used an amalgam of several recipes.
I used a cup of masoor dal. I bought this at The Middle Eastern market in my town. They had dozens of kinds of dal. They were quite affordable. Masoor dal looks like little red lentils. I cooked the beans in a pot with water, a little bit of turmeric and some cayenne pepper. The beans started breaking down very quickly, but I cooked them for about 45 minutes.
In a small skillet, I heated some canola oil, sauteed an onion. When the onion was soft I added turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, and grated ginger and let that bloom for a minute. I put the onion mixture into the blender with a half cup of the cooked dal and pureed. I put the puree in the pot with the remainder of the dal. I added some finely chopped tomato and finely chopped serrano pepper. Then I just let it cook down until it reached a very thick texture. I put in a bit of coconut milk and a squeeze of lime and it was ready to go.
Dal and Chapati
I made some chapatis, an Indian flatbread, to go with this. But I have to tell you, they didn’t turn out all that great. Mine turned out leathery and flavorless. I think that may require a little practice. Serve yours with some of that good-looking store bought naan bread, and you’ll be in business!
The Bean Dip World Tour – what did I learn? Once I started doing some research on this, I was really surprised by all the kinds of bean puree to be had. I’ve listed five varieties here, and I have barely scratched the surface.
All of these bean dishes are great used as a dip or topping. But they would also be great as a spread for a sandwich or wrap. They make a great side dish for any meal. You can use them for snacks.
They were all pretty easy to make. The ingredients are humble, easy to find and inexpensive. When you have a pot of beans in the refrigerator, turn a portion of them into a dip. I am guessing that you could freeze all of these dips, spreads and purees.
This has been an interesting way to expand my repertoire of bean recipes!