Send In the Beans

A couple of weeks ago, I was having drinks with some friends when one of them uttered an absolutely baffling phrase: “beans alla gin with oat milk.” I laughed so hard I was moved to tears. What, pray tell, were beans alla gin with oat milk?

Ever the resourceful cook, my friend Madison had recently set out to make a pasta alla vodka-style dish, but with beans. Except she didn’t have cream, she had oat milk creamer. Oh, and she also didn’t have vodka. But she did have gin. She made her swaps accordingly and enjoyed it thoroughly, she said.

I was skeptical, namely of the juniper-scented gin. But a week later at her house, I ate a big bowl of beans alla gin with oat milk — and my words.

Adaptability is a kitchen skill learned through practice and patience, with the help of a little courage and intuition. When it comes to mastering substitutions, a great place to start is not necessarily with liquor or dairy, but with beans, the genesis of Madison’s dinner experiment.

Using beans in lieu of pasta — as in Ali Slagle’s recipe for beans and greens alla vodka — is a straightforward way to add protein to a meatless meal. But they can also easily replace meat in vegetarian spins on classics, as in Lidey Heuck’s white beans au vin, which retains all of the winy, mushroom-y goodness of the French classic without any of the coq.

With Tejal Rao and Alexa Weibel’s recipe for beans Marbella, you can enjoy all of the familiar, tangy flavors of the dish made famous in “The Silver Palate Cookbook” — red wine, prunes and olives, vinegary shallots, capers — with thin-skinned, creamy cannellini or Great Northern beans instead of chicken. “Perfectly balanced,” one reader wrote. “I only wish I had company tonight to wow, because this was a winner!”

It’s a dish tailor-made for gray January Sundays when you have a little extra time to cook a pot of dried beans, though readers had success using canned as well. Sarah DiGregorio’s Buffalo white beans make for equally comforting winter eating, especially looking ahead to the Super Bowl next month. And if you’re eagerly awaiting the arrival of spring, be sure to bookmark Naz Deravian’s khoresh rivas, an Iranian rhubarb stew that is often prepared with red meat, but here features big butter beans.

Beyond the beans, all of these recipes are ripe for riffing. The reader notes on the recipes are wells of inspiration should you need it. Or simply cook à la Madison, and go forth with your gut and your pantry.

Credit…Ryan Liebe for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.

Beans and Greens Alla Vodka

View this recipe.

Credit…Dane Tashima for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

Beans Marbella

View this recipe.

Credit…Julia Gartland for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Barrett Washburne.

Buffalo White Beans

View this recipe.

One More Thing!

Some news you can use from our friends at the Well section of The New York Times: On Jan. 15, they’re introducing a Mediterranean diet series, a week of daily emails filled with nutritional facts and shopping suggestions, along with New York Times Cooking recipes.

“The beauty of the Mediterranean diet is that it doesn’t have strict rules like cutting out certain foods completely, or counting calories, fats or carbs,” writes my colleague Alice Callahan. “The goal is to help you shift your overall eating pattern toward one focused on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and healthy sources of fat.”

If you’re subscribed to the Well newsletter, you don’t have to do anything. You’ll receive the first installment in your inbox. If you’re not a subscriber, you can sign up here.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!

Email us at [email protected]. Newsletters will be archived here. Reach out to my colleagues at [email protected] if you have questions about your account.

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