A friend of mine is vegetarian and is always asking me for recipes without meat so she can cook something different. What better reason than to look at Beans in cooking and add a few recipes for you, Jan?

There are many varieties you can buy in cans or dried, but remember, if cooking from packets do this very slowly and add some salt to stop splitting. Dried beans can be frozen once cooked and then added to any dish towards the end for maximum flavour. Below are some favourites and some not so well known, but all easy as usual. The chilli is very popular in our house and I usually make a big pot and then freeze into portions to be defrosted when I am too busy to cook. I usually buy different coloured peppers to add to the dish rather than just red and I always add mushrooms, but these are optional.
Buen Apetito

Pasta and Kidney Bean Soup

1 can chopped tomatoes
2 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 tbsp butter
3 ounces pancetta or bacon, finely chopped (optional for meat eaters)
1 medium onion, finely diced (about 1 cup)
6 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
1 quart chicken broth/veg stock
2 cans dark red kidney beans
2 bay leaves
1 cup small pasta such as shells, ditali, or elbows
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pour the tomatoes into a medium bowl and set aside. Heat olive oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until butter is melted. Add pancetta or bacon (if using) to pan and cook, stirring constantly about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add onion, garlic, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly until softened but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juice, chicken broth/veg stock, kidney beans, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil over high heat then reduce to a bare simmer. Cook for 20 minutes, adding pasta to soup for the last 5 to 10 minutes (see package directions). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard bay leaves, serve, drizzling each serving with extra-virgin olive oil at the table.

Chilli Con Carne

1 tbsp oil
1 large onion
1 red pepper (or half red, green and yellow)
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 heaped tsp hot chilli powder (or 1 level tbsp if you only have mild)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp ground cumin
500g lean minced beef
1 beef stock cube
400g can chopped tomatoes
½ tsp dried marjoram
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsp tomato purée
410g can red kidney beans
Mushrooms (optional)

Add the oil to pan and heat. Add the onions and cook. Add the garlic, peppers, chilli powder, paprika and ground cumin. Give it a good stir, then leave it to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add minced beef and stir until brown. Crumble 1 beef stock cube into 300ml hot water. Pour this into the pan with the mince mixture. Add chopped tomatoes and marjoram, sugar and add a good shake of salt and pepper. Add tomato purée and stir the sauce well. Simmer it gently for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse red kidney beans in a sieve and stir them into the chilli pot. Bring to the boil again, and add chopped mushrooms if using and simmer for further 5 minutes. Serve with soured cream and plain boiled long grain rice.

Black Bean and Rice

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cups long-grain rice
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large green or red pepper,
2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 x 15oz cans black beans, undrained
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp ground cumin

In a medium saucepan, combine 4 cups of water with 1 tsp salt and 1½ tsp of the oil. Bring to a boil. Stir in the rice, cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20 minutes or until the rice is tender. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tbsp oil over medium heat. Sauté the onion, green pepper, and garlic until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the beans, broth, vinegar, bay leaves, black pepper, cumin, and 1 tsp salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaves. Spoon the beans over the rice. Serve warm.

Bean and Corn Salad with Avocados

2 small heads lettuce, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup corn kernels (cut from 1 to 2 ears, or frozen and thawed)
2 avocados, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 x 15.5oz can pinto beans, rinsed
½ red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup fresh coriander
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup fresh lime juice
½ tsp ground cumin
Salt and black pepper
½ x 9oz bag tortilla chips

In a large bowl, combine the lettuce, corn, avocados, beans, onion, and coriander. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, lime juice, cumin, ¾ tsp salt, and ¼ tsp pepper. Drizzle dressing over the salad and gently toss. Serve with the tortilla chips.

Mexican Eggs and Beans

2oz dried chorizo, diced
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped (remove seeds for less heat)
1 x 14oz can no-salt-added pinto beans, drained and rinsed
3 scallions, sliced
6 large eggs plus 2 egg whites
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup crushed baked tortilla chips
3/4 cup shredded low-fat cheddar cheese
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 avocado, pitted, peeled and sliced
2 tbsp low-fat sour cream

Cook the chorizo in a large non-stick pan over medium heat until it just begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the bell pepper and jalapeno and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to sizzle, about 5 minutes. Add the beans and half of the scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through, about 4 minutes.

Whisk the whole eggs and egg whites with 1/4 cup water and 1/8 tsp each salt and pepper in a bowl. Add to the pan and cook until just beginning to set, about 2 minutes. Add the chips, cheese, half of the cilantro and the remaining scallions and continue cooking, stirring, until the eggs are just set, about 3 more minutes.

Divide the eggs among plates and top with the avocado, sour cream and remaining cilantro.