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c0203 BC-FEA-Food-Beans 01-05 1585

January 09, 2001

Versatile legumes hailed as a favorite

By JOAN BRUNSKILL / Associated Press Writer


NEW YORK - "The Bean Book" (W.W. Norton, $30) by Roy F. Guste Jr. dishes up serious appreciation for a food that doesn't always get the respect it deserves.

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Guste is an unqualified fan of beans, peas and lentils (sometimes called pulses), those tasty, versatile, healthful and economical representatives of the legume family.

The cover of his book promises "delicious recipes for the world's most healthful food with nutrition analyses and alternate light versions."

There's more than one reason for his allegiance. Guste, food authority, historian and writer, explains the genesis of his enthusiasm in a phone interview from his native New Orleans.

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"Well, first of all, we grow up here with red beans and rice. Then, with traveling to many other countries, I realized there were great bean dishes everywhere in the world."

American interest in beans was already growing when he first proposed this book about four years ago. "I was hearing this interest, and I was thinking, well, I like bean recipes, and every country I've ever been has bean recipes."

There's certainly ample global evidence of the bean's adaptability, its worldly sophistication. Many of us are familiar with cassoulet, the classic bean casserole beloved of French chefs.

However, as the recipes in Guste's book show, the bean is also the basis for such regional favorites as Middle Eastern chickpea hummus, Israeli falafel, Chinese stir-fried snow peas, African black bean gumbo, Mexican refried beans, Armenian lentil soup, curried garbanzos - to say nothing of Boston-baked beans and Louisiana boiled fava beans.

"Beans are eaten practically everywhere," Guste said. "Even where it's too cold to grow them, they eat beans. It's such a portable product - the early settlers in this country depended on beans they carried along with them in their supplies." It's also a foodstuff that's used at every stage of its growth, from sprouts to the dried bean, he points out.

Evidence for the bean's health benefits has been growing, too. Writing a previous book, "Louisiana Light" (Norton, 1989) got Guste into food analysis and made clear to him how well beans rated. It occurred to him that beans would make a good single-subject book.

The bean is the one thing that gets put into every diet, he says. "It's the only vegetable that delivers enough protein to live on."

Documenting the bean's stellar nutrition with analyses of individual recipes was the most difficult part of the writing, he adds with a laugh - "it was just so tedious, working it out on the computer."

But he called it one of the prime thrusts of the book. "This analysis really tells you what you're getting. The recipe reader passes over it at first glance then realizes later, 'I've got this, too.' "

Guste's writing is crisply specific. What he's learned to do when he's writing a food book, he says, is "to read history and agriculture to really understand how cuisines develop."

His brief introduction refers to the ancient traditions of bean cultivation, in the New World as well as the Old. Beans were among the first plants cultivated, at least as long as 7,000 years ago, he says.

But he's more interested in their use to us today. They are good for the earth in which they're grown, he writes, and there's more and more evidence they are very good indeed for us nutritionally.

"We should all try to reconsider our use of beans and think of them in a way that they are thought of in many countries other than the United States."

Does he eat beans often? "Yes, especially when I'm trying to lose a few pounds. I always keep something in the refrigerator ready to eat, something made with lentils or beans."

One more point in their favor: "Beans are so inexpensive. I just went to the store to buy some, and they were 69 cents for the package - amazing, for something I can use to feed six people."

Guste's experience in feeding people includes a long stint as proprietor of Antoine's, the New Orleans restaurant. His book delivers as much substance as the beans he praises. His introduction concludes with practical information on soaking and preparation, and then comes the real pith of the book, the detailed chapters of recipes for more kinds of beans than most of us could name.

Among the recipes are Red Beans and Rice, and Cannellini With Italian Sausage. Each is accompanied by notes, suggested variations and nutritional analyses for both the original and a lighter version.

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