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Popularity of grains, beans is growing

While dining out during a recent trip, I noticed that the restaurants had several dishes where beans and grains were mentioned in the item’s name or description. Looking at some old menus in my archives, it was rare to see items with beans and grains mentioned. Today, in the United States, their popularity is growing by leaps and bounds.

There are many reasons: health benefits, affordability, interest in plant-based diets, cultural influences, many grains are gluten-free, sustainability and versatility.

Talking about versatility; brownies made with black beans (they’re quite good, and people won’t know what the secret ingredient is), burgers made with a variety of beans, bean-based dips (have you tried a dessert hummus  with chocolate as an ingredient?), grains in salads and soups, grains such as quinoa and oats in smoothies as well as grains and beans in those popular breakfast and lunch bowls.

All it takes is creativity to prepare nutritious and flavorful dishes using beans and grains in recipes.

A staple in many cuisines around the globe, especially China, Mexico, India and Brazil, beans and grains have been nourishing the world for thousands of years.

Did you know?

• Lentils were eaten 13,000 years ago in the Middle East.

• Beans are considered symbols of good luck and prosperity in many cultures. In regions in the United States, it is customary to eat black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. They are eaten at Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year as a symbol of a prosperous year ahead. A good friend from Brazil prepares lentils on New Year’s Eve, symbolizing wealth and good fortune, his culture’s tradition he continues here in the U.S.

• Beans come in all shapes, colors and sizes, and come in thousands of varieties.

• Quinoa (a complete protein on its own), farro, spelt and amaranth are ancient grains that have gained popularity due to their health and nutritional benefits. They were part of the diet of ancient civilizations. Everything old is new again!

• Rice, millet, sorghum, buckwheat and rice are among the gluten-free grains, the perfect option for those with diet restrictions.

My goal to include more beans and grains in my diet led me to getting a copy of “The Complete Beans & Grains Cookbook: A Comprehensive Guide with 450+ Recipes,” by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen (2024, $34.99)

And complete it is…. before presenting the recipes, there is an in-depth discussion about beans. You’ll learn about common beans vs. heirloom beans, colors and flavors. There is a compilation of two dozen dried beans used in the recipes. Each bean is discussed in detail, including tasting notes and the recipes they are used in.

From here you’ll master how to cook dried beans resulting in the perfect flavor and texture. For those who prefer to use the convenience of canned beans, that’s covered, too. This is followed by a primer about lentils, a member of the legume family as well as other legumes such as fava beans, green beans, peanuts and soybean varieties.

Then, it’s onto grains: common, whole and heirloom. Twenty-one grains are discussed in detail, plus which recipes they are used in. Then, how to cook grains along with a helpful chart to keep handy. The next section is about varieties of rice used in the recipes along with a rice cooking chart. Concluding the introduction is the equipment that was tested by the test kitchen to cook beans, grains and rice.

Along with the signature headnotes, for which America’s Test Kitchen is known, the recipes that call for heirloom bean and grain varieties that might be more difficult to find, and a-bit-more-expensive, substitutions for a common grocery store alternative, are given. In a hurry…recipes that can be prepared in 45 minutes or less are flagged.

The editors said:“ Even if you are an old hand at cooking beans and grains, there are hundreds of inventive recipes waiting for you. There are traditional recipes for Hoppin’ John, Tacu Tacu and Adasi. There are comfort classics including New England Baked Beans, Ribollita and Arroz con Pollo. There are celebratory dinners such as Chickpea Bouillabaisse, Kibbeh bil Sanieh and Plov.

Let’s get started with these recipes ….

Nutty, earthy farro is one of the fastest-cooking whole grains around, and it works to make the perfect good-for-you Farro Salad With Roasted Eggplant. (Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen)
Nutty, earthy farro is one of the fastest-cooking whole grains around, and it works to make the perfect good-for-you Farro Salad With Roasted Eggplant. (Courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen)

Farro Salad with Roasted Eggplant

Serves: 4 to 6

Total time: 1¼ hours

The headnote says: “Why this recipe works: Nutty, earthy farro is one of the fastest-cooking whole grains around, and it works to make the perfect good-for-you grain salad. While the farro cooks, we broil cubed eggplant until it’s nice and brown, which brings essential meatiness and savory, caramelized flavor to the salad. A hefty amount of jarred, roasted red peppers add sweetness and extra veggie goodness.

“Once the farro is cooled, we toss everything together with thinly sliced scallions and a lemony dressing that permeates the whole dish. Do not use pearl, quick-cooking, or pre-steamed farro (check the ingredient list on the package to determine this) in place of the whole farro.”


1½ cups whole farro

½ teaspoon table salt, plus salt for cooking farro

1½ pounds eggplant, cut into ½‑inch pieces

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest plus 1 tablespoon juice

1½ cups jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed, patted dry, and cut into ½‑inch pieces

3 scallions, sliced thin

¼ teaspoon pepper


1. Adjust oven rack 4 inches from broiler element and heat broiler. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add farro and 1 tablespoon salt and cook until grains are tender with slight chew, 15 to 30 minutes. Drain farro, spread onto rimmed baking sheet, and let cool for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, toss eggplant with 3 tablespoons oil, then transfer to aluminum foil–lined rimmed baking sheet and spread into even layer. Broil eggplant until well browned, 15 to 17 minutes, stirring halfway through.

3. Whisk remaining 3 tablespoons oil and lemon zest and juice together in large bowl. Add cooled farro, eggplant, red peppers, scallions, pepper, and salt and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Buckwheat Tabbouleh features bulgur parsley, mint and chopped tomatoes tossed in a bright lemon vinaigrette, classic Mediterranean tabbouleh has a refreshing flavor profile that makes it a great light side. (Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen)
Buckwheat Tabbouleh features bulgur parsley, mint and chopped tomatoes tossed in a bright lemon vinaigrette, classic Mediterranean tabbouleh has a refreshing flavor profile that makes it a great light side. (Courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen)

Buckwheat Tabbouleh

Serves: 4

Total time: 35 minutes, plus 45 minutes cooling and resting

The headnote says: “Why this recipe works: Featuring bulgur (a product of the wheat berry), parsley, mint and chopped tomatoes tossed in a bright lemon vinaigrette, classic Mediterranean tabbouleh has a refreshing flavor profile that makes it a great light side. To give this classic our own spin, we swap the bulgur for another grain: mild, appealingly earthy, buckwheat groats.

“Because buckwheat contains a fair amount of starch, we make sure to cook it pasta-style in plenty of water; the water washes away the excess starch, producing separate, evenly cooked ­kernels. For the herbs, we add plenty of fresh, peppery parsley; 1½ cups has just enough of a presence to balance well with ½ cup of fresh mint. To ensure undiluted, bright flavor in the final tabbouleh, we salt the tomatoes to rid them of excess moisture before tossing them into the salad.”


¾ cup buckwheat groats, rinsed

½ teaspoon table salt, divided, plus salt for cooking buckwheat

3 tomatoes, cored and cut into ½-inch pieces

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Pinch cayenne pepper

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1½ cups minced fresh parsley

½ cup minced fresh mint

2 scallions, sliced thin


1. Bring 2 quarts water to boil in large saucepan. Stir in buckwheat and 2 teaspoons salt. Return to boil, then reduce to simmer and cook until tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain well. Spread buckwheat on rimmed baking sheet and let cool for 15 minutes. (Buckwheat can be refrigerated in airtight container for up to 2 days.)

2. Meanwhile, toss tomatoes with ¼ teaspoon salt in bowl. Transfer to fine-mesh strainer, set strainer in bowl, and let sit for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally.

3. Whisk lemon juice, cayenne, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt together in large bowl. Whisking constantly, drizzle in oil.

4. Add drained tomatoes, cooled buckwheat, parsley, mint, and scallions and gently toss to combine. Cover and let sit at room temperature until flavors meld, at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. Toss to recombine and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Corn Pudding is a rustic, souffle-like casserole. (Courtesy of America's Test Kitchen)
Corn Pudding is a rustic, souffle-like casserole. (Courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen)

Corn Pudding

Serves: 6 to 8

Total time: 1 hour

The headnote says: “Why this recipe works: Recipes for this rustic, soufflé­like casserole, a traditional part of many a Thanksgiving spread, often call for boxed corn muffin mix and canned cream corn, but here we opt for a fresher take. We swap out the creamed corn for frozen corn kernels, which have a better texture and more flavor than canned. To ensure a silky base brimming with the flavor of sweet corn, we buzz some of the kernels with cream in a blender.

“In place of the boxed muffin mix, we simply combine flour, cornmeal, salt, sugar, and a touch of baking soda; for rich flavor and light texture, we add sour cream and melted butter. Baking the mixture for 35 minutes in a 400-degree oven sets the pudding without drying it out.”


1 pound frozen corn

¾ cup heavy cream

½ cup (2½ ounces) all-purpose flour

⅓ cup (1⅔ ounces) cornmeal

¼ cup (1¾ ounces) sugar

1¼ teaspoons table salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup sour cream

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 large egg, lightly beaten


1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Grease 8-inch square baking dish. Combine corn and ¼ cup water in microwave-safe bowl. Cover and microwave until corn is tender, about 7 minutes. Drain corn.

2. Combine cream and 1½ cups corn in blender and process until coarse puree forms, about 30 seconds. Whisk flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, and baking soda together in large bowl. Whisk sour cream, melted butter, egg, pureed corn mixture, and remaining corn together in separate bowl. Whisk sour cream mixture into flour mixture until combined. Transfer batter to prepared dish.

3. Bake until edges of pudding are lightly browned and top is slightly puffed, about 35 minutes. Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

Recipes courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen.

Stephen Fries is professor emeritus and former coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Conn. He has been a food and culinary travel columnist for the past 16 years and is co-founder of and host of “Worth Tasting,” a culinary walking tour of downtown New Haven. He is a board member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Email him at For more, go to


Source: Berkshire mont

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