Bean panini: The days are getting longer and warmer, so let’s eat light!

I’m not a big fan of beans. Maybe it’s because I ate them all the time while I was growing up. My diet as a child was based on beans and potatoes, which were cheap and relatively easy to find at the local market. To me and my family, those were the days when oranges and bananas were the stuff of fairytale, and meat was a delicacy. 

I remember my mom making a big pot of delicious beans with very few ingredients: butter beans, a splash of vegetable oil, some onions, and a few tomatoes. It was simple, wholesome food, and I loved it, yet at the same time I secretly hoped for more variety. Little did I realize, as a child, that this was simply not possible. How can you create new and exciting recipes when you only have a basic and very limited number of ingredients?

Now I know better, and I have grown to appreciate my mom’s past efforts, and the big pots of beans of yesteryear. I recently tried to bring beans back into my diet. I wanted to use them in a lighter and brighter dish, so I came up with the idea of making a bean panino with butter beans. I had a can of butter beans and some red onions in my pantry, and butter, a cucumber, a couple of bell peppers, and some fresh cilantro in the fridge. I made this dish with my heart overwhelmed by nostalgia, in a bright and warm kitchen, encouraged by the arrival of the spring, and secretly determined to bring out of the best in the humble beans.

Ingredients

1 15oz can of butter beans, drained

1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

1 medium red bell pepper

1 medium cucumber

1/2 medium red onion

Handful of cilantro

1 French bread roll (or any other bread of your choice)

Salt and pepper (to taste)

Hot sauce (optional)

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The recipe could not be easier: First, put the beans, melted butter and salt and pepper in a blender.

Put the blender on high and blend for about 40 seconds, or until the bean mixture is homogeneous. For a creamier texture, add more melted butter. Also add more salt and pepper, if necessary.

Take the mixture out of the blender and place it in a bowl. Wash and chop the cilantro, and then add it to the bean mixture. Mix well.

Cut the red onion and the cucumber widthwise. Cut the pepper lengthwise into 1/2 in strips. Cut the bread roll in half and scoop the middle out. Put a layer of the bean mixture on each side, and then add the sliced veggies on top of the bean mixture, as you see fit. This is how I put the veggies – but there are no set rules:

Grill the panino for about one minute, or until golden brown. Serve it with extra bean mixture and crunchy red onion on the side, and also with hot sauce for a spicy kick. Put the remaining bean mixture in the refrigerator. (I’ve kept it in there for a few days without a problem)

The panino looks healthy and tastes great. I really like how the red bell pepper – flavorsome yet gentle – shines through the bean mixture, while the cilantro adds to the overall freshness and lightness of the dish. The panino is also a good vehicle for the red onion, whose crunchiness and assertiveness is tamed by the dominant bean element.

This dish encapsulates the spirit of my childhood and means a lot to me. At the same time, it reminds me that summer is not far away, and that I should be patient: we’ve all been through a lot this winter, but hope and sunshine are around the corner. I get very excited thinking of the warm days which lay ahead of us – and hope that you do too 🙂


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