8 Essential Bean Cookbooks

by Hannah Walhout

Published: 7/18/23, Last updated: 7/19/23

If you’re a reader of FoodPrint, you know we’re big on beans. They’re high in protein and fiber, low in cost and often sustainable to grow, with some (like the advocates behind the Beans Is How campaign) promoting their potential to alleviate both global hunger and carbon emissions. And while they seem to be having a “moment” of late — sales have been strong, perhaps the combined influence of indie heirloom bean companies, a rise in vegan and vegetarian diets and pandemic projects that stood the test of time — it’s important to remember that beans have been one of humanity’s go-to proteins for thousands of years.

This long-standing love of beans means a wealth of preparations from cuisines the world over, including popular meat alternatives like soybean-based tempeh and tofu and bean-based veggie burgers. But between dishes like red red with black eyed peas, black bean or red bean gallopinto and herby fava bean ful, you could eat beans every day and never get bored.

A small but mighty contingent of cookbook authors have dedicated pages to spreading the bean gospel. Check out some of our favorite titles — a few brand-new releases, many time-tested resources — to add some bean expertise to your cookbook shelf.

Beans and Field Peas

By Sandra A. Gutierrez

“Growing up in Latin America, from an early age, I was nourished with all kinds of delicious bean dishes,” Sandra A. Gutierrez writes in her entry to the UNC Press’s “Savor the South” series, published in 2015. “And today, as a cook and cookbook writer in my longtime home state of North Carolina, I’ve discovered the South’s equal affinity for beans.” This slim primer offers Southern recipes both classic (leather britches, hoppin’ John, succotash) and new (like a hummus made with purple hull peas), plus bean-focused dishes from many countries, including her childhood home of Guatemala.

Chickpea and olive salad from Judith Barrett’s “Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy,” recently revised and reissued by Rancho Gordo. Photo credit: Courtesy of Rancho Gordo.

Fagioli

By Judith Barrett

Despite its pasta-and-pizza-forward international image, Italian cuisine from north to south is rich with beans and pulses: chickpea fritters from Sicily, Tuscan ribollita with cannellini and that simple, satisfying classic pasta e fagioli. Judith Barrett’s impressive catalog of Italian legume dishes was first published in 2004 but had since gone out of print, with used copies commanding up to $200 each from devoted fans. Earlier this year, Barrett worked with the heirloom bean experts at Rancho Gordo to release a revised and expanded second edition.

Bean by Bean

By Crescent Dragonwagon

In this 400-page tome, the James Beard Award-winning vegetarian author waxes poetic about beans while connecting them to Thoreau, Rumi, Shakespeare, Medieval Europe, the Bible and even Paul Giamatti. And that’s just in the introduction. Between mini-essays that examine beans from various historical, cultural and nutritional perspectives, “Bean by Bean” has 175 recipes that riff on familiar favorites — vegetarian chopped liver, anyone? — and celebrate the ways that many food cultures have showcased this versatile ingredient. 

Bold Beans

By Amelia Christie-Miller 

Bold Bean Co., the London-based purveyor of jarred beans, only ships within the U.K. for the time being — but you’ll soon get a window into the brain of bean-obsessed founder Amelia Christie-Miller with her forthcoming cookbook, out August 1. Readers will find ways to turn dried, canned or jarred beans into snacks (crispy chickpeas, beans on toast), soups and stews (like a squash-and-sage “bean-otto”), filling salads and showstopping main courses, as well as meditations on beans as part of a solution to climate change and the problems in our food system.

bowl of beans with plantain
Ewa riro and dodo (Nigerian stewed black-eyed peas with plantains) from “Cool Beans” by Joe Yonan. Photo credit: Aubrie Pick.

Cool Beans

By Joe Yonan

The longtime food and dining editor for The Washington Post — and a longtime vegetarian — Joe Yonan knows a thing or two about beans, which he describes in the introduction to his 2020 cookbook as “the most important plant-based protein in the world.” After laying out his accumulated expertise — what to look for in canned beans, which beans you can substitute for others, and techniques for prepping (“to soak or not to soak?”), cooking and storing — Yonan shares 125 creative recipes, which include desserts made with aquafaba, sweeter beans like adzukis and common varieties like navy beans.

The Great Vegan Bean Book

By Kathy Hester

Vegan food blogger Kathy Hester is known for finding creative uses for slow-cookers and Instant Pots — both of which pair perfectly with beans. One of the only bean cookbooks focused entirely on meat- and dairy-free recipes, “The Great Vegan Bean Book” uses these and many other tools and techniques to push the legume envelope: Recipes include white bean “queso,” black bean fudgesicles and rosewater parfaits that incorporate both tofu and red lentils.

summer bean salad
A salad of spinach, orange segments, feta and fava beans from “Grist,” a grain- and legume-focused cookbook by Abra Berens. Photo credit: EE Berger.

Grist

By Abra Berens

Okay, it’s not quite as bean-centric as the rest of the list…but we would be remiss not to mention Abra Berens’ ode to the wide world of cereals, seeds and, yes, beans. In “Grist: A Practical Guide to Cooking Grains, Beans, Seeds, and Legumes,” the Michigan-based chef zooms in on different varieties of shell beans, garden peas, field peas and lentils, infusing her recipes with historical and agricultural context. Berens rounds out the plate with plenty of whole grains, making this an essential reference for a well-stocked pantry.

Heirloom Beans

By Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington

Rancho Gordo founder Steve Sando started growing heirloom beans in Napa more than two decades ago, quickly catching the eye of influential chefs and expanding operations to include unique imports from Mexico, South America and Europe. His highly regarded first cookbook, co-authored with Vanessa Barrington, tells that story and dives into the many diverse beans Rancho Gordo now has on offer: Whipples from Oregon’s Willamette Valley; ceci neri (black chickpeas); “Christmas” lima beans, speckled with green and red; and dozens more. Sando has since worked on several other titles, including two vegetarian volumes and a deep dive on pozole, but “Heirloom Beans” remains a classic.

Top image: Lemon and herby bean broth with seasonal greens from “Bold Beans” by Amelia Christie-Miller. Photo by Joe Woodhouse.

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