Better with beans

Published in FSD Update

Ready to prove they’re more than a side, beans take center stage in entrées.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

Beans play a large role in the University of North
Texas’ vegan dining hall Mean Greens.

A longtime side dish staple, beans are getting the spotlight treatment as operators look to satisfy customer requests for healthier and meatless options. To find out how beans are taking their place in the center of the plate, FSD spoke to operators about how they are menuing the most popular types of beans, as determined by the United States Dry Bean Council: pinto beans, navy beans, black beans, great Northern beans and red kidney beans.

At the University of North Texas (UNT), in Denton, beans are an everyday occurrence at the vegan dining hall, Mean Greens. Wanda White, chef manager, says her team mashes pinto beans to make refried beans, which are used in tacos and as a spread for sandwiches. “With pinto beans we usually do more of a Mexican flavor profile, so we add cumin and chili powder,” White says.

Another favorite bean dish is a Frito Pie, adds Ken Botts, director of special projects for dining services. “The pie features pinto beans, Ro-Tel tomatoes, garlic, cumin and chili powder. It’s basically like a chili without the meat. We also put a little tomato paste in it and put Fritos on top.”

Another bean pie White’s team serves is a tamale pie that uses red kidney beans. White mixes kidney beans with sautéed red and green peppers. She then puts cornbread batter on the top and bakes it. White says students love this pie because it contains all the flavors of chili such as chili powder, red and green peppers, onion and garlic. In fact, she uses much of the same mixture for her vegan chili, except she adds steel-cut oats to the mix, which gives the chili some added texture. 

White says another good bean for her dining hall is the great Northern bean, which has a mild flavor that makes it work well with different flavor profiles. One dish White’s team makes with great Northern beans is a bean and leek cassoulet. The team cooks the leeks and adds carrots, onions, peas and beans. The mixture is served over biscuits.

Spicing up classics
Beans are also a key ingredient for Adam Schloemer, sous chef at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, in Dallas. His most creative use is a vegetarian meatloaf, which uses puréed refried beans as a binder.

“We chop up black bean Morningstar burgers and mix them with the puréed beans, some rice, peppers, a little bit of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, eggs and breadcrumbs,” Schloemer says. “I season it with just salt and pepper. We bake  it in a loaf and cook it off and it comes out really close to the texture and taste of a traditional meatloaf. The Worcestershire sauce gives that beefy flavor.”

Schloemer’s team also makes a popular black bean and roasted corn salsa, which can be served either chilled as a salad or heated as a topping for chicken or dishes like soup. The salsa features black beans, tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, lime juice and roasted corn.

Schloemer also likes to use beans as a thickener in dishes like red beans and rice. “We pull some of the kidney beans out, purée them up and add them back in to thicken the dish. It gives it a really nice, rich flavor,” he says. 

Iraj Fernando, executive chef/manager for Southern Foodservice Management Inc. at Bosch LLC, in Broadview, Ill., uses his global knowledge of cuisine to incorporate beans into a variety of internationally inspired dishes. “I grew up in Sri Lanka where we eat a lot of beans, so I use them a lot,” Fernando says. 

One example of his bean philosophy is showcased with a line of tabbouleh salads offered on the salad bar. Fernando says by adding beans to the tabbouleh, the dish becomes an entrée. He adds navy beans, pinto or even small red beans to the different salads to make a complete dish. Another dish Fernando likes is breakfast chiles rellenos, which features fried eggs, black beans, roasted tomatillo, poblano chilies, roasted corn and enchilada sauce.

“We do a lot of South American food here,” Fernando says. “We do a paella-like rice and beans that has cilantro, red onion and sofrito with some fresh garlic that goes into the rice. Then you add some saffron and green pigeon peas. You sauté that into the rice and then we make a sauce out of pink beans and tomatoes to go with that.”

Fernando also likes to put twists on American classics like baked beans. He adds prosciutto, bacon, chopped onion, molasses, orange liqueur and brown sugar to his version. “We put some melted cheese on top of it and serve it like a French onion soup,” Fernando says. “So the customers don’t even realize they are eating beans right away because they are buried under the cheese. We serve it as a casserole or serve it with a chicken breast, turkey or with some spinach or kale.”

Working with beans
UNT’s White says the health benefits of beans make them an easy choice for vegan, vegetarian and health-conscious students. 

“If you eat beans, you don’t need meat products, and study after study has confirmed that,” White says. “Also, people just like beans. I’m surprised that these kids eat them so much. I think the health reasons are a big part of that. That said, they can be challenging to work with. We can buy beans in a can, but that’s not always the way I like to do it. I’m not saying we never use cans—we do for some of the casseroles—but I like to cook them fresh because they just taste so much better. It’s a challenge to do it, but it’s worth it.”