The PB&J Campaign is not ONLY about the PB&J. The sandwich is a great hook, a way to show Americans that fighting global warming, saving water and land, and cutting pollution is as easy as something they know and love already. It’s not about giving something up, it’s about eating more of things we love.

Now, beans don’t have quite that kind of comfort factor, and you don’t think of getting beans as part of a fancy dinner, but beans are a cornerstone of diets all over the world, and one of the best ways to get protein for the least land, water, fuel, and emissions. We’ve got to earn beans some respect, dang it. One way is to get beyond the canned pinto beans we throw in a burrito in a pinch.

Dig the scarlet runner bean. The name itself is awesome. The beans are too, but in a completely different way than the name might imply. They’re not scarlet, but they’re frickin’ enormous. I did a really poor job of photographing this dish, so you’ll have to believe me that they start big and cook up to about an inch and a half long. One or two beans is a mouthful, the taut skin yielding to a burst of creamy flesh inside.

Rancho Gordo (where I bought the beans) recommends cooking them with wild mushrooms and a little too much garlic, so I went with that. I am a lazy cook, and since I didn’t have wild mushrooms sitting around, I ended up using some dried mushrooms – I think shitake and oyster.

1) I started soaking the pound of beans the night before – basically putting them in a bowl with a couple extra inches of water. I probably could have started soaking the morning before.

2) I soaked the mushrooms for 15 minutes in hot water (heated with a tea kettle – not quite boiling).

3) I roughly chopped those mushrooms and set them aside, reserving the soaking water.

4) I drained the beans, put them in my pressure cooker with the chopped mushrooms and a couple bay leaves, and dumped in the reserved water from the mushrooms, adding a little extra water to make sure I had about an inch over the beans.

5) I cooked them in the pressure cooker for about 25 minutes. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, get one – seriously, though, you could also simmer the beans for an hour and a half or so, but the pressure cooker makes it so much quicker and easier.

6) While the beans were cooking, I chopped five cloves of garlic, and cooked them on low heat with about a quarter cup of olive oil.

7) When the beans were done, I stirred in the garlic and olive oil.

The more I think about it, this is a wonderful bean for a dinner party. However you cook them, you’ll get all kinds of oohs and ahhs when people see and then bite into the scarlet runners.

The PB&J Campaign is not just about the PB&J (though it is a classic and delicious sandwich, easy to make, and incredibly cheap) as a way to save land and water, cut pollution, and fight global warming. Other plant-based meals work well too, in particular anything based on beans.

Obviously beans have an image problem. There’s the old poem (beans, beans, they’re good for heart…) to contend with, but also their general reputation as a basic, boring food turns people off. We can wax eloquent about the glories of exotic grains (amaranth, spelt, etc.); it’s time for a similar bean revival!

Luckily Rancho Gordo is leading that campaign. This is a company out in Napa Valley in California that sells heirloom bean varieties – getting us past the old canned lima and kidney beans and into the exciting territory of the scarlet runners and Mexican varieties like Rebosero and Ayocote Morado, plucked from obscurity through their partnership with central Mexican farmers, the Rancho Gordo/Xoxoc project. Aside from the inherently fun cultural and culinary project, Rancho Gordo is helping to turn the beans from the also-ran on the plate into a gourmet staple that we can get just as excited about as any fancy tomatoes or obscure chicken breeds.

These bean varieties might be inherently tasty, and they might be great because Rancho Gordo places a lot of attention on selling fresh beans (after a few years dry beans decline in quality, so what you buy in the supermarket might be too old to cook up well and taste good), but either way I (Bernard Brown) decided to put in an order (note that this was full price – no special deals involved) for a big box of heirloom beans to try for myself. I’ll be working on a variety per week, so stay tuned for recipes featuring them.

First up, the Ojo de Cabra! That translates into Eye of the Goat (I’m sure some of you are sighing in relief that we’re not cooking up goat eyeballs), and Rancho Gordo’s website was emphatic that it is a great bean to cook very simply. All I did was cook them with onion and garlic and eat them with some salsa, and sure enough they were delicious – hearty with a little bit of a roasted corn flavor in there.

Exactly how did I cook them? Well, my tool of choice is a pressure cooker for speed (about 20 minutes) but a friend I spoke with is a crock pot devotee (more time, less attention), and you could also just take the hour or so and cook them on the stove top – all these assume soaking ahead of time.

Here is the bag o’beans, straight out of the Rancho Gordo box:

Ojo de Cabra in bag

I soaked them (I did the whole 1 lb at once) in the pressure cooker, starting first thing in the morning to be cooked in the late afternoon. soaked ojo de cabra beans

I added 2 chopped medium onions and three cloves of garlic before cooking, added some more water to cover them by about an inch, and then cooked them for 20 minutes in the pressure cooker.

chopped garlicchopped onion

And here they are with a little bit of salsa on top – perfect!

ojo de cabra plated

In college, way before the PB&J Campaign, I spent a semester aboard in Guanajuato, Mexico, where I lived with a local family and ate with them most meals. I ate extremely well, with a nice variety of dishes, but at almost every meal we had tortillas and beans. The beans would start off as large pot of pinto beans cooked with some light seasoning, but after being reheated a couple times over the next few days would end up as kind of mashed up – delicious and great in a tortilla with a little bit of salsa (whichever we had for the meal – green, red, etc.).

Treehugger recently posted refried beans in their weekday vegetarian series, motivation enough to go out and buy a bag of pinto beans to work with, or a can of pinto beans, or if you’re feeling a bit on the lazy side buy a can of refried beans at the market. “Lazy” because this is one of the easier foods to make, making it a perfect PB&J Campaign recipe. You can check out the full official recipe here, but basically you’re making some beans with basic Mexican seasoning (garlic, onion, cumin, chile, oregano) and then mashing them up. How easy is that? It’s also a variation on whatever other beans you’ve made but maybe made too much of and now want to try in a slightly different form.  Best of all it’s easy, ridiculously cheap, and helps save land, cut water use and pollution, and fights global warming.

The PB&J Campaign carries on in its quest to introduce tofu to the American people, at least easy tofu that’s not likely to freak people out (don’t worry, it won’t turn you into a hippy) or make them feel like failed cooks. Of course this blog has also been going gaga (for at least two years) over Mark Bittman and his quest to get us all to eat a healthier diet – healthier for the planet and healthier for us.

This week on the Minimalist he dropped this incredibly easy salad of celery and pressed tofu. This is not necessarily easy to find; you generally have to find a Chinese or other East Asian market – easy in most big cities, maybe less so elsewhere. Pressed tofu is just what it sounds like – tofu that has most of the water squeezed out of it. It solves several problems for the tofu neophyte – it holds together no matter how much you toss it about in a pan, and it has a denser texture. In this recipe it works like the chicken you might put in a cold salad. He maybe complicates it a little too much with making your own chili oil. It might be really good chili oil, but you can also buy chili oil in a jar and it works pretty well.

And don’t forget, we’re still taking applications for our live-event outreach internship – send us your resume if you’re psyched about connecting college campuses and grassroots environmental organizations with the wonders of PB&Js.

Please, don’t get freaked out and stop reading. Tofu is one of those foods we hesitate to promote because of it’s strong association with far-out, hippy culture (not that there’s anything wrong with hippies; some of my best friends…), sort of the soft, squishy antithesis of the red meat that is definitively American. Whatever misconceptions we have about tofu, it’s truly great stuff. It is a popular, basic food for about a quarter of the world’s population, and you too can learn to love it, a cheap and yummy (we kid you not) way to fight global warming, reduce your water use, cut pollution, and use less land.

Start at a decent Chinese or Japanese (or Korean, or Indonesian, or Burmese…) restaurant. We don’t want you to start experimenting and get turned off, so order a couple dishes designed for tofu and see how it works, and then find some basic, tasty recipes to work with at home. This baked tofu recipe comes to us from Take Back Your Table!, a great blog for busy parents.

Soy and Citrus Baked Tofu

Baking is one of the easiest ways you can get started with tofu. You basically just drain, marinate, and bake. The soy/citrus marinade here works great, but you can play around or use up whatever store-bought marinades you’ve got hanging around the fridge.

After our last post, we have to at least talk about how tofu is made. Tofu is about as processed as we’ll recommend over here at the PB&J Campaign. (Almost all food is processed, when you think about it: Bread is wheat processed by grinding, mixing with water, yeast converting sugars to gas bubbles, and heat from the oven. We cook pretty much any beans we eat, and any animal products are either grass or grains (with some fish meal thrown in) The exception is the fresh fruit or vegetable we can eat as-is.) Tofu is soybeans that are ground up with water to make soy milk, boiled a bit, and then sort of curdled and pressed into forms. This is how it’s been done for a couple thousand years, at least.

This amount of processing, albeit traditional and minimal, does make tofu more resource intensive than something as basic as beans prepared in a traditional way, but still probably less so than the most efficient animal product, poultry, and without the big ‘manure’ problem you get from chicken operations. See this great discussion in Slate for more info.

PB&J’s aren’t just for lunch, they’re also for parties!

Sure, you might be rolling your eyes right now – anything can be party food (maybe not oatmeal – not sure how you’d work that into a party, and the thought of chasing a bowl of oatmeal with beer is kind of un-stomach-settling) – but PB&Js work particularly well. You have to cut them up into quarters or eighths to make them into finger food, but the sweet/umami combination of the jelly and the PB work well with beer. AND eating peanut butter is a traditional African hangover prophylactic.

I sort of tripped over this at a party two and a half years ago. I was eating nothing but PB&Js for a fundraiser, so I brought a plate of PB&Js as our contribution so that I’d have something to eat. I only ate a couple sandwich’s worth, but the plate was empty halfway through the party.

Eating the PB&J bites is only half the fun; for those of us who get a kick out of doing the planet a favor, you’re saving water, land, and greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution compared to other finger food based on animal products (cheese cubes, pigs in a blanket, deviled eggs, etc.) .

This is also a great time to try out some of the more daring PB&J recipes – spicy PB, chocolate PB, fresh fruit versions that you need a toothpick to hold together…

Here are a couple plates from a recent spread. One platter is chocolate PB (Peanut Butter and Company) with strawberry jam on whole wheat, the other is a raisin nut bread with chunky PB (again, Peanut Butter and Company) with blueberry preserves.

Sometimes “recipe” is putting a little strongly. These are the foods that are basic concepts as much as they are dishes. The PB&J leaps to mind, (one of the reasons it makes a great mascot for the PB&J Campaign) but much more of the world subsists on the low-on-the-food-chain classic pairing of beans and rice.

Red beans and rice, black beans and rice, rice and dahl, Hoppin’ John, basically any beans go well with rice, either as two distinct dishes eaten together or cooked together as in this great black beans and rice recipe from the NYTimes’ Recipes for Health series. (I would use more beans relative to rice, and I think it’s okay if you use canned beans) – in almost any case, eating rice and beans for lunch or dinner (I suppose breakfast too) will help shrink your carbon footprint, use less water, cut your embodied pollution, and use less land than the animal produce alternatives.

We spend a lot of time on beans, but what about that rice? When Americans think ‘rice’ we usually think white rice, but we should really be thinking more about brown. White rice is brown rice that has had almost all of its fiber, protein, and a lot of its vitamins and minerals stripped away, leaving a little nugget of starch. Brown rice, by that token, is a whole lot better for you – a complex carbohydrate instead of the simple. Check out this Well Blog post to learn about an interesting study linking brown rice consumption to lower diabetes risk. It takes longer to cook, although a pressure cooker will cut the cooking time back down to under twenty minutes (that pressure cooker will help with beans too).

The PB&J Campaign is NOT just about the PB&J! It might be more to the point to say that the PB&J Campaign is all about beans and grains. After all, the peanut is just a bean by another name, and the protein in the two slices of bread (ideally whole grain) is coming from wheat.

Eat a meal getting most of its protein and calories from legumes (Falafel – chickpeas, tofu or tempeh – soy beans, bean burritos – well, beans) or grains (oatmeal, pasta) and you can help fight global warming, cut pollution and water use, and conserve land.

On previous recipe posts I’ve mentioned my recent exploration of beans – that might sound like a boring and geeky quest, but think of it in a gourmet, earthy peasant food light (check out Rancho Gordo Beans for a gourmet spin on our legume friends) and impress your friends with your foodie exploration of the underestimated beans.

And then serve them Cranberry Bean Soup. I presented this (recipe thanks to Saveur) as the center of a big dinner a couple weekends ago, with a multi-grain sourdough bread from Four Worlds Bakery, and a couple fresh salads, and I relished the expressions of surprise and enthusiasm as people tasted how awesome a humble bean soup can be (and then asked for seconds). FYI, cranberry beans also go by ‘Roman’ beans.

Lately I (Bernard Brown) have been cooking up a bean series. There are a lot of beans out there, and I’m discovering that not only are they incredibly cheap (a pound of most dry beans for about a dollar, a bit more for the fancy heirloom types, and a pound makes a lot of meals), but they’re really easy to make and to make taste good.

We’re not ALL about the PB&J – something we say a lot, especially when people miss that point and ask us about the health effects of eating nothing but PB&Js. Any plant-based meal can help shrink your footprints (carbon footprint, water footprint, land footprint, etc.), and pretty much any meal based on beans fits that bill.

It helps to have a pressure cooker (saves a lot of time) but you can do it with a standard pot, it just takes a bit longer. All I’ve been doing is soaking the pound of beans for at least a few hours ahead of time (easy to do before you go to work), and then tossing in a couple chopped onions (hard to over-onion) and ideally a couple bay leaves, some garlic, and a chopped carrot. Add whatever other spices and herbs you feel like and cook until the beans are tender. If you’d like to add tomato or anything else acidic, it’s a good idea to wait until the beans are nearly or already soft, since higher acidity can toughen the beans.

The latest version I tried out is butter beans with wild mushrooms. To make my ad hoc cooking process look like a real recipe, here are the ingredients I used:

1 pound butter beans (a.k.a. lima beans) – soak the pound of dry beans ahead of time, say before you head off to work in the morning, then drain them before you start cooking.

1 to 2 large onion, chopped

3 bay leaves

1 large carrot, chopped

1 or 2 ounces of dried wild mushrooms

Black pepper, cayenne pepper, and salt to taste

First, put the mushrooms in a large bowl, immerse them in two or three cups of hot water, and cover for at least fifteen minutes.

Then pull the mushrooms out of the water with a slotted spoon, reserving the liquid.

Trim any remaining tough parts and chop the soaked mushrooms.

Then add the mushrooms to the beans in a large pot with the bay leaves, onion, and carrot.

Now use that reserved mushroom soaking liquid to fill the pot of pre-soaked beans a little above the level of the beans. Make sure you hold back the grit at the bottom of the mushroom bowl.

Cook the beans until they’re soft – with butter beans I like to over cook them until they start to fall apart, forming a sort of silky base.

I sprinkled it with some parsley to make it look pretty for this post, but consider the parsley optional. Eat this with a salad and some good bread.

butter beans

Last thing, make sure to eat this while listening to the B-52s’ Butter Beans!

Some foods reward skill in the chef – there is some trick or difficult feat of dexterity required, say to properly fold the ingredients in the souffle, or careful manipulation of heat and timing.

Hummus is not that kind of food, at least at a basic level. I hear of particularly amazing hummus, tahini and lemon balanced ever so perfectly in the chick peas blended just so, but the truth of hummus is that you can thrown chick peas into a food processor with some basic additions (garlic works, lemon juice works, olive oil is fabulous), and it will be pretty damn good even if you don’t measure all that carefully.

You can also throw in all kinds of other fun stuff. Want to make hummus with balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice? That’ll work. Want to try curry powder or paste? Rock on. How about curry and raisins? Fabulous! Check out this Curry Hummus with Raisins recipe from Meatless Monday, originally from The Plant-Based Dietitian and give it a shot next time you see your kitchen.