One of the best ways to improve culinary skill is to study just one ingredient or cooking method, trying to really understand how it works and how it can be integrated into disparate cuisines. I love doing this, despite the fact that it tends to lead toward me making all of the possible dishes that include, for example, lemons – and then having to eat them afterwards.
Recently, while casting about for a new subject, I decided that I didn’t know as much about beans as I wanted to. The timing was perfect – beans are considered a good luck food for New Year’s celebrations in a variety of cultures, representing money and prosperity (think about what “bean counters” are counting).
What is a bean, anyway? What makes it different than, say, peas or coffee? Is a green bean a bean? Are they really the musical fruit?