Jackie Freeman | Credit: Bell Lee
Chef, culinary instructor, recipe developer, food stylist, writer, mom and onetime farmhand/cheesemaker are just a few of the titles that apply to Jackie Freeman. “I have sort of worked the whole gamut of food. One thing always led to another, led to another. My personal life philosophy is that if you work hard and do your best, then that effort leads to new things.” The latest “new thing” she adds to her résumé as a serial culinary tinkerer is author, with the May 5 release of her first cookbook, “Easy Beans,” with local publisher Sasquatch Books.
The title, which is available as an e-book (it will be published in hard-copy format in the fall), arrives at a time when the humble but hearty bean is having a big moment, if the ransacked bean aisles at grocery stores are any indication. “Easy Beans” presents 40 simple planet- and family-friendly recipes, covering every meal of the day, that showcase the versatility and nutritious punch of widely available — not to mention inexpensive — beans, pulses and lentils.
We spoke with Freeman to learn more about her food journey, the “magical” attributes of beans and life with her favorite little recipe testers, her two stepsons (ages 12 and 8) and daughter (2).
My husband is a very meat-and-potatoes kind of guy and wants to have meat at every single meal. I personally just don’t like to eat that much meat. Beans were a way I could almost trick him into eating something filling and hearty. As the person who does all the grocery shopping and budgeting, I am spending a lot less money than buying meat products every day. I’m also a runner and so I need good, clean sources of protein.
What about the kids?
How did they react to this bean-anza? They didn’t know the difference. A lot of times I would either mix things that were familiar with beans in it, instead of chicken or beef. Or, as every good mom or parent does, I would hide the beans. For breakfast, I would basically hide beans in their smoothies. I would do a peanut butter and jelly smoothie with garbanzo beans in it, or a chocolate, banana and black bean smoothie. They don’t even know the beans are in there, but it’s super protein-rich and it’s good for everyone.
Do you have a favorite bean?
I’m a chickpea, garbanzo bean kind of girl. Also, I like white beans because they blend in physically and taste-wise, and so you can mix them into things and not necessarily know that they’re there.
What do you think is the most underrated bean?
Actually, I think black beans are a surprise, because you can use them in both savory and sweet dishes. People don’t really think about using beans in a sweet application. Same thing with lentils, because you can bake with lentils, and they can be sweet or savory. One of my favorite recipes is a granola that I make with lentils in it. And then my other favorite recipe is xoi dau den, which is a sweet Vietnamese black bean and sticky rice dish that is usually served as a breakfast, but it has all this protein in it from the black beans, coconut and peanuts.
Over the course of the development of the cookbook, did you have a transformational shift in your family’s diet?
I did end up losing weight. We all felt a lot healthier because we were eating bean dishes several times a week. We dramatically cut out the amount of animal protein we were eating. But then, with the whole COVID thing, we started baking a lot. We’ve now taken all of those really good health benefits from eating a bean-based diet for the last six months and we replaced all that with sourdough bread and scones and biscuits and cookies. Hopefully, the pendulum will swing back a little bit.
How do you address the question of using dry beans versus canned?
It’s a matter of time and cost. Dried beans are a lot cheaper than canned beans, but they do require more time. If you have a slow cooker or pressure cooker, you can make them fairly hands off. When I am making beans for a recipe, I’ll make a really large batch and freeze part of them. Beans hold up really well in the freezer. When I do buy canned beans — because I’m a mom of three kids and I don’t always want to cook beans, I just want to open a can — I always go for the organic beans and try to find beans without any additives. And I always rinse them off before I use them.
Can we talk about the obvious issue with beans?
Yes, if you’re new to beans, they do have consequences on your digestive system! I think in the book I mention something about the stinky elephant in the room or something like that. First of all, take a slow approach: Don’t go all beans or nothing. Let your body get used to it, because it is a different source of protein and fiber. Soaking beans helps to release some of the extra gas, and a lot of the flavors that we naturally cook beans with also help to reduce the tootiness factor. There’s a whole section in the book on it.
How did you pull this off with three kids underfoot?
Basically, I would research and write while my baby was napping. At the beginning, she’d nap twice a day, and so that would be my window for writing, and then after all the kids went to bed. Now I’m writing a second book and doing the same thing. When the toddler goes down for a nap, I get the older kids occupied with screens and get to work. So that’s my writing time; and then I use family meals as my testing times. Not every meal is perfect and delicious the first time around. But we always have peanut butter and jelly sandwiches available. When things go awry, there’s always a quesadilla. With beans in it.
What can we expect in your next cookbook?
The new cookbook I’m working on is about plant-based sandwiches. When I started working on this bean book, I began to feel so much better cutting out meat. Physically I felt better, but then also I sort of felt better emotionally and environmentally — we were reducing our carbon footprint, and our food bill also went down, because I wasn’t spending as much on meat.
We’ve transitioned now from eating meat every single night to having two nights that are vegan, two nights vegetarian, two nights that are meat-based and a wild card night, which is usually leftovers or takeout. I feel that I’m making a good choice for me personally and for my family and for my community by choosing a more sustainable way of eating.
PB&J Smoothie Recipe
All the best things about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, in drinkable form.
Makes 1 serving
In a blender, combine the strawberries, oat milk, chickpeas, peanut butter, and chia seeds. Puree until smooth.
©2020 by Jackie Freeman. Excerpted from Easy Beans: Simple, Satisfying Recipes That Are Good for You, Your Wallet, and the Planet by permission of Sasquatch Books.
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