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Cold nights call for hot bean dishes

SH13A223BEANS Jan. 29 2013 -- Roasted Chicken with Chickpeas Carrots. (SHNS phoby Andy Morris/ The Toledo Blade)

SH13A223BEANS Jan. 29, 2013 -- Roasted Chicken with Chickpeas and Carrots. (SHNS photo by Andy Morrison / The Toledo Blade)

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Updated: February 5, 2013 10:40AM

Rick Blaine, the hero of “Casablanca,” had it wrong.

At the mist-shrouded airport, he tells Ilsa, the love of his life, that she needs to leave him and board the plane to freedom with her heroic husband, Victor.

“Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble,” he says nobly, “but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.”

He says that as if beans were unimportant, as if they were expendable, as if they could be cast aside without a second thought.

Beans are an indispensable source of protein. Because they are so affordable and provide such a vital part of our nutrition, they are among the most widely consumed types of food on Earth. Some people even call them a magical fruit.

At this time of year, when the air is crisp and chilled, when the bitter wind stings our faces, what is better and more comforting than to come home to a big pot of beans steaming on the stove?

They’re warming, they’re hearty. There is nothing better to drive away the winter blues.

On a couple of particularly cold days recently, we decided to explore beans in a variety of ways.

We started out with a bean stew, flavored with rosemary and garlic, and served atop farro, an age-old grain that in recent years has become trendy again.

This particular recipe calls for dried beans, which need to simmer for two hours or so until they were soft. Only then could we begin to put together our stew. Once they were ready, into the beans went olive oil, garlic, an onion studded with a clove, and a bouquet garni of rosemary, thyme and a bay leaf.

We let that pot simmer away merrily while the flavors blended. Meanwhile, we prepared the farro. When the beans were done, we pureed half of them, stirred them back into the pot, and served it on top of the nutty-tasting farro. It was magic.

For a meat-based entree, we roasted a chicken over a melange of chickpeas, lemons and carrots. It was quite a healthy meal, except for the three tablespoons of butter that are rubbed into the chicken before cooking. That’s how to get the skin so crispy, which is one of the dish’s defining elements, but people watching their waistlines might want to eliminate that step.

The chicken was flavored with garam masala, a heady mixture of Indian spices. The beans and carrots on the bottom have both the garam masala and the lemons, an unexpected mixture that brought an exciting verve to the chickpeas and unified the dish into an exotic whole.

Scripps Howard News Service

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