I can’t believe that after all these years, I’ve never made white bean dip. I’ve made dips with eggplant, chickpeas, eggplant again, and even weeds, if you can believe it. I don’t know, it always seemed like it would be too plain, or ho-hum. A mound of puréed beans? No thanks.
But boy, was I wrong. First up, of course, are the beans. There are good beans and there are not-so-good beans. The good ones are fresh and buttery tasting. The not-great ones are old and stale. Who knew that dried beans went bad? Dried beans generally have a shelf life of about one year and if you’ve ever tried to cook up a batch of dried beans and they’ve remained stubbornly tough, it’s usually because they’ve been hanging around too long.
I had a bag in my pantry since, well, I can’t remember when I bought them. So as we say in the restaurants business, “Use ‘em or lose ‘em” – so if you’ve got some beans in your pantry that you keep pushing aside, as I was (to reach for the chocolate) now is the time to get ‘em soaking, folks.
When you’re buying ‘fresh’ dried beans, get them from a good source for best results. There are some wonderful heirloom bean suppliers in the states, such as Rancho Gordo, Phipps Ranch, and Seed Savers Exchange. In Paris, I get mine from an épicerie that has a lot of turnover; La Grainerie du Marché d’Aligre, which is a favorite place to shop at.
For this batch, I used the famed Haricots Tarbais, which are kind of pricey but have an especially rich flavor and since I don’t do drugs, I spend the money that I save on good dried beans. Haricots Tarbais start off ivory-white, but after an hour of so of simmering, they soften and take on a burnished caramel color, which gives the dip an extra boost of flavor. They cost about 5 times what other beans cost, so you don’t need to go as wacky as I did. (Although think of all the drugs I could buy if I bought crummy beans!) But yes, I have made this with supermarket dried beans, and it’s definitely much better with good ones.
However canned beans will do in a pinch – it’s not the end of the world if you use them – and if you keep a tin in the pantry, with your chocolate, this is a great last-minute recipe to whiz together to serve before dinner with thin slices of toasted bread. I’m a fan of grainy breads, which work rather nicely with the bold flavors of the chopped herbs and the garlic used in this dip.
In addition to the fresh herbs, the olive oil is important as well. Don’t be afraid of olive oil. Like butter, it’s a flavor, not just something you use to fry onions in. And if you use a good brand, you can use it judiciously because it has so much more flavor than those big greenish bottles that cost $2.99. (It’s funny that people will pay $10-$20 for a bottle of wine that they’ll polish off in one sitting, but balk at paying that for a bottle of olive oil that will last them at least a month.)
But I’m hopelessly frugal as well, hence you’ll notice that I’m parsimonious with the oil mixed in the dip, but use it generously poured over the top, where it shines.
White Bean Dip
Six to eight appetizer-sized servings
Soaking the beans the night before drastically reduces the cooking time. And I’ll often cook extra beans, to maximize my energy-efficiency, and use them for soup. If using canned white beans, or making a big pot, you’ll need 2 cups (380g) of beans, drained for the dip.
Reserve some of the liquid, as indicated in the recipe for making the dip. You can use whatever herbs you like. Fresh basil works quite well, as does sage, and tarragon would add a nice sharpness.
Serve the dip with toasted slices of bread, or whole-grain crackers.
- 3/4 cup (6 ounces, 225g) dried white beans
- One bay leaf
- 1/4 cup (60ml) bean cooking liquid
- 2 medium cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- generous pinch of red pepper powder
Additional olive oil and fresh herbs, for garnish
1. Rinse the dried beans and sort them, checking for stones or debris. Soak the beans overnight in cold water.
2. The next day, bring the beans to a gentle boil with a bay leaf, making sure there is plenty of water covering them. Cook until completely tender, 1 to 2 hours, depending on the beans.
(If you live in an area with hard water, a pinch of baking soda can be added to the water to help the beans cook and soften.)
3. Drain the beans, reserving some of the liquid. Puck out the bay leaf and let the beans cool until tepid.
4. Put the beans along with 1/4 cup (60ml) of their cooking liquid in a blender or food processor, and blend with the garlic, dill, mint, parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and red pepper powder. You’ll need to stop the machine a few times and scrape down the sides, but do puree it long enough for it to be completely smooth, which will take several minutes.
Taste, and adjust for seasoning, adding more salt or olive oil if desired. If it’s too thick, add a tablespoon or so of the reserved bean liquid or olive oil. Garnish with a generous drizzle of olive oil and a scattering of fresh chopped herbs.