Give kidney beans a chance.
I could really go for some kidney beans right now is a thing that no one has said, ever. (I have never said it, have you? And if you have, are you sure it wasn’t part of a nightmare?)
Kidney beans are the picked-last kids at recess, left—awkward and standing alone—after the cooler and prettier and taller kids get chosen to play. I do not condone this behavior at recess, by any means, but I have to say: I understand it in the pantry. Kidney beans don’t have a lot going for them.
The only questions they answer are those of thrift and pragmatism, like how am I going to bulk up this chili? or what is the canned food I can stock that no one will ever be tempted to eat before doomsday comes? They “bulk”; they do not “brighten” or “sing” as we’ve known other, cooler, prettier foods to do. Which is why I only ordered them at Kachka in Portland, Oregon, because they were cleverly disguised on the menu as lobios salad. They pulled the wool over my eyes with a word I did not know! And with horseradish vodka.
But: The kidney beans were bright! They sang! They were the best thing on the table. I stole them from my dinner companion and scooped up every last one with pita chips. And then I vowed to learn how to make lobios salad—and what it actually meant.
Lobios is a simple, traditional Georgian herby bean salad, and there's nothing all that surprising in the recipe—the heady marigold, maybe, or the tart-sweet pomegranate molasses—and the whole thing is three steps, if your beans are already cooked. (They are, aren’t they? You’re a good little Tamar Adler, right?) It takes well to a little adaptation, too: We’ve made this with harissa instead of Turkish hot pepper paste, and the thing still sang on pitch. I’ve eaten it cold, out of a deli container; perfectly room temperature and winged with pita chips at Kachka; I’ve piled it, 4 days old, with a couple of fried eggs. Still wonderful. Still winning.
Choose your ingredients wisely, it teaches us, yet again—and prepare them well—and you can make even the Eeyore of legumes into something you’d serve to the most intimidating of dinner guests.
You can make phrase I could really go for some kidney beans right now actually true. You can pick the kid picked last, and make him the M.V.P.
Serves 4 to 6
For the salad:
2 quarts cooked kidney beans
2/3 cup sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 cup cilantro, chopped
1 cup parsley, chopped
1 cup walnuts, chopped and sieved to remove
1 cup crumbled sheep's milk feta
For the dressing:
1 clove garlic, minced
4 teaspoons Turkish hot pepper paste
1 teaspoon ground marigold
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1/2 cup olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
Photos by James Ransom