Cool concepts for fryin'-hot days 

A fridge full of beans to the rescue

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Take a walk outside. It's 30-plus. Yep, the heat is definitely on and with not much let up in sight, the last place you want to be is standing in front of a red hot stove feeling like an overcooked red hot yourself.

Barbecue is an option, especially if you do it at midnight under a full moon and grill up enough to last a few days in the fridge. Barbecued eggplant, chicken legs, salmon kebabs, you name it — delicious. But with more than a few cancer scares in my life, I'm looking a little askance at food sporting char-grill marks these days.

Besides, barbecue usually dictates a three-servings, meat-and-potatoes kind of moment with all the ensuing dinner plates and trappings. So give it up, I say, for quick and light, whether you're dining al fresco or all-in at the kitchen counter and only want to dirty a fork you can rinse off under the tap to get back outside ASAP.

A one-fork meal is my idea of heaven in weather like this, and if you want hearty and tasty and you want cold, dishes based on beans or pulses you cook yourself are the ticket. High in fibre and nutrients but low in calories and cost, a supply of nicely cooked beans stashed in your fridge can turn into satisfying salads, dips and main summer fare in an instant.

One of my favourite bean basics is French or, more properly, Du Puy lentils. Lentils, named for their lens-shaped seed, are known for their rich protein — about 26 per cent of their content. These ones are especially attractive — dark green and khaki with indigo marbling — and sport more body and flavour than other lentils, so they hold up nicely with nothing more than a light, simple dressing.

Some people describe them as "peppery" in taste. I don't quite find pepper myself, but they are flavourful enough that good olive oil and salt and pepper, and maybe a chopped green onion or two, will do to finish them. Best of all, they're fast to cook.

I think the big obstacle to using dried beans — no matter that they have all the above benefits, plus you avoid all that salt and BPA still found in the plastic lining of tinned beans — is that we think we have to soak them overnight. In our compressed world that means planning ahead — yikes! But you don't have to.

Here's the best bean trick ever that I learned from Carol Gelles's classic, 1,000 Vegetarian Recipes: quick-soaking them. First, rinse and clean the beans. Use a two-quart pot and for each cup of beans, add four cups of water in. Bring to a boil and simmer two minutes, then let the beans stand in the hot water about an hour or until the interior of the bean is uniformly coloured when you cut it in half with a sharp knife. Then drain your beans. Keep them in the same pot, add four cups of fresh water, bring them to a boil, and simmer them, covered loosely, for the suggested cooking time.

Gelles's cookbook has all the cooking times for beans. These vary from about 20 to 40 minutes for lentils to an hour or two for pinto, navy beans (the kind used in tinned pork 'n' beans), and kidney beans, which come in light red and dark red varieties and are also known as red peas in Jamaica. The time varies as much for the type of bean as for how dry it is. If you've had them on your shelf for 10 years, they'll be pretty desiccated and will take more time to cook.

The bonus with French lentils is they cook up in about 20 minutes or less even without soaking — perfect for keeping your cool. I like mine a bit crunchy, especially in this dish, which is as good warm as it is straight from the picnic cooler.

The results of this recipe are worth the extra effort. If you don't have cloves, just toss in the onion naked.

In fact, try adding things like a chunk of white turnip, whole onions and garlic cloves, and/or bay leaves to the boiling water of any of your basic bean efforts. They'll bring out such interesting, complex bass notes in any good pot of nicely cooked beans that they can anchor many an ad libbed summer supper.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who is not on the payroll of the bean industry.


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