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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Vegan Bean Dip

While not being an expert on bean dips, I have noticed that many (if not most) appear to really be "cheese dips" instead; they all seem to follow a similar theme, which is a small amount of beans, spices, and then a large amount of dairy.  For the dairy, I've seen everything from cheese to sour cream or yogurt, to even cream cheese.  Often some combination of these.

This is something I've never really understood.  I mean, you don't need to infuse flavour into this using 'tricks' like cheese or salt or the like; the awesome flavour of bean dip comes from... well... beans!


Myself, I'm a pretty decent fan of beans, lentils, and all things legume-like.  They're great for you, and have a low glycemic index, meaning they'll fill you up with good stuff without spiking your blood glucose levels.

So, I figured it was high time I tried to make my own version of bean dip.

Now, if you've read my posts before you'll know that about some things I seem quite knowledgeable and experienced, while about some other topics I defer to others' advice and admit to being a first-timer.  While some other times entirely, I also enter full-on experimenter mode, and am not satisfied until I've concocted what I believe to be the best iteration of a menu item I can possibly concoct.

Not quite Heston Blumenthal level of detail, but still enough to make me feel like I've considered everything it is that makes a particular something good and representative.

So, for bean dip, I needed to do some research on other people's bean dips first of all, and after being shocked by the abhorrent amount of bad things in what (in my mind) really COULD exist on its own in a healthy varietal, I decided to take action.


Now, because I wanted to make these without any animal products, some consideration needed to be paid to from where the flavour should be delivered.  Remember my penchant for assigning dominant vs. complementary flavours, well in this, bean dip, forgive me the conceit of thinking that beans should be dominant.

So, we want to play up the bean flavour, and accompany this with some complementary root veggies and dried spices.

For this, I went with, in order of prevalence (volume): white beans, pinto (refried) beans, onion, tomato, garlic, cumin seeds (freshly ground), oregano, jalapeño, avocado oil, smoked salt.

That's it.

The veggies all enhance the bean flavour without ever becoming so powerful as to overwhelm them.  Which is at the core of what I mean when something should be dominant and complementary... so, that's good.


Now for the preparation.

In today's age of competing products, there really is no shortage of brands of beans out there.  

As with ALL packaged foods, I strongly encourage you to READ your ingredient labels!

Remember that healthy eating begins at the store.  Now, that said, beans are one of those things that actually can be had, packaged, in a relatively pure and healthy form.  I've found many products on the market at a variety of grocers, wherein the ingredients are basically just beans.  Maybe tomatoes, or spices or salt as another ingredient, but for the most part, just beans.  Now, I've also seen beans with insane ingredients in there, so the rule of thumb is just don't trust the manufacturer, trust yourself, and read the labels.

This brand, Pacific, is actually pretty good, and I recommend it.  I admit I've not done a whole lot of their products, but I have enjoyed many of their soups... and these bean tetrapacks are really great.

These, after all, are the star attractions for tonight's rock show.  So please choose these carefully.

You can, of course, make your own beans from dried, and I have done this before, but if you choose a good packaged bean (read: not containing a crap-ton of superfluous and detrimental ingredients) that is pretty much just beans, don't feel guilty about that.  It really saves a LOT of time not to have to rinse, soak and cook your dried beans.  Like, crazy-town amounts of time.


First thing though, and before the beans even, is the soffritto, which if you've followed my spatterings at all, you'll know is a regular to many of my culinary forays.

The soffritto for tonights bean dip is going to be simple, and just onion, garlic, and pepper.

I used a fairly large amount of onion.  More than I would for other things, but think of it as the number two star of tonight's show.

The amount of garlic is still a little on the voluminous side, but more in line with my typical usage.

The oil you use for softening these veggies is important.  Try not to use olive oil.  I've talked before about the rise and fall of my love for olive oil, but that's neither here nor there.  

Tonight's dish doesn't really need a lot of cooking, especially not high-heat cooking, so our considerations for oil choice are more based on flavour.

So, I've opted for avocado oil.  Which incidentally does have a high smoke point, but for tonight's purposes I've chosen it for it's taste.

So, we lightly sauté the coarsely chopped onion in a generous amount of avocado oil for a few minutes, then add the garlic and (de-seeded) jalapeño and cook for another few minutes.

Because we want a little bit of heat for our bean dip (not muy piquante, but pleasantly warm), I chose to use two chillies.  But I made sure to de-seed and de-placenta them before chopping them up and adding them to the pan.

At this point I ground up a large amount of cumin seeds and dried oregano.

When the veggies were nice and soft, and the onion almost translucent (I'd say close to 10 minutes total on medium-low heat), I added the spices.

A couple of quick turns about the pan, and normally this would be ready to go into the blender or food processor.  But, bean dip is even more reliant upon texture than most things, and so we really want a uniform consistency here.  So, I added the baked beans at this point.

After a couple of minutes, now THIS was ready to be puréed in the blender.

As always, my trusty immersion blender is my go-to processor.  I find the degree of user-control to be unparalleled; it's very easy to make everything very even and smooth.

At this point I also puréed a single tomato.  For colour, flavour, and a bit of cool acidity.  Acidity is a good thing to have in a dish like this.

When everything got blended very smoothly, I carefully scraped it all into my slow cooker.

Next I added the refried pinto beans, which just need a few stirs as they are usually already nicely puréed.

Lastly, a pinch of smoked sea salt.

It's not a lot, and depending on whether your beans had added salt in them or not, you may even need less.  This really doesn't make or break the dish, it really is just about taste.

I really like the phrase (or, I guess, directive): "salt to taste".  I don't see it often enough, but I like what it implies.


Anyway, that's all stirred up, all nice and uniform in texture, and ready to be forgotten about for several hours in the slow cooker.

And, when done, this is a glorious, fragrant, bean sauce or dip.

Did I mention healthy?  This shit is so good for you, I might go so far as to say you could live off of it.  Maybe that'd get boring, but I will say that if you incorporated a good vegan bean dish like this in your diet on a weekly basis, you'd certainly be better off for it!

We've made this 100% vegan so far, and I recommend you keep it this way - it really is quite delicious (not just 'vegan' delicious, but ACTUALLY delicious) - but if you absolutely need to, you could sprinkle a bit of freshly shaved cheddar and/or some sour cream or yogurt on top.

Myself, I just sprinkled some fresh scallions on top.

And served it with a decently healthy (sodium is really the only bad thing) tortilla chip.


If you try this, you might wonder why so many bean dips have all that dairy in them yourself, as this really is quite tasty.  And filling... but in a good way.