This week I’m travelling back in time to a recipe from the 1980’s. While searching through cookbooks on my bookshelves, I rediscovered one that I purchased during those years. I’m a collector and never throw anything away — this cookbook is a good one. Glancing through the pages, I saw marks by the recipes that I had made; most had “excellent” by them and many had memories associated with them. And this cookbook has a story of it’s own. I decided to try to make a one of the recipes — “Baked Beans à la Charente”, a vegetarian bean casserole topped with fresh tomato and eggplant slices. A little cognac in the beans gave some zing. Yum.
The Vegetarian Epicure
The cookbook is The Vegetarian Epicure. I purchased it in the early 1980’s while living in Detroit. I don’t really remember the circumstances, but do remember it was one of the first “real” cookbooks I’d ever purchased. Every recipe was on it’s own page; every one that I tried was a winner–breads, vegetarian casseroles, soups –gastronomic delights. And I really wasn’t much of a cook back then; so these accomplishments were especially rewarding.
The cover is graced with a young lady with long flowing hair — the introduction includes suggestions of menus for dinners and on how to entertain, noting that certain dishes are wonderful for snacking “if grass is smoked socially in your home” and your guests develop “the munchies.” Oh, those were the hippie days! Who couldn’t like this cookbook?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this cookbook was on the cutting edge and is the predecessor to most vegetarian cookbooks books today. It has become a classic cookbook which has sold over one million copies! Published in 1972, it was the “bible” of vegetarian cooking in the 1970’s and 1980’s, making vegetarian cooking appealing — something traditional cookbooks of that era missed entirely. It is still in print as well as the sequel, The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two.
Author Anna Thomas
The cookbook author is Anna Thomas, born of Polish descent who moved to this country as an infant. She learned to cook, with influence of her family’s cuisine, and loved to entertain friends while in graduate school. Friends suggested she write a cookbook and this resulted in The Vegetarian Epicure, written while she was a film student at UCLA. It’s success lead to a second cookbook, The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two.
Anna writes screenplays and produces films. Her screen credits include My Family, Mi Familia and El Norte, both of which were nominated for an Academy Award. Over the years, Anna’s interest in cooking has continued. She’s followed the success of her first books with others including: Love Soup, The New Vegetarian Epicure, From Anna’s Kitchen: Plain and Fancy Vegetarian Menus and the Vegan Vegetarian Omnivore. Her style of cooking has changed over the years; perhaps more sophisticated while still simple. The same interest in vegetarian menus continues. Here is Anna’s WEB site where you can learn more about her cookbooks and what’s she’s doing currently:
Baked Beans à la Charente Casserole – Making the Recipe
I’m trying to include more plant foods, beans and legumes in my diet. So I decided to try a recipe from The Vegetarian Epicure. The recipe, Baked Beans à la Charente, is made with dried white beans – I used Louisiana Blue Runner brand — which are cooked with savory seasonings, and then baked with tomatoes, wine and cognac and topped with fresh tomato and eggplant slices. A hearty meal.
Cooking dried beans is a rather time consuming process. You need to plan ahead. The recipe calls for soaking the beans overnight (a step which I often skip). After soaking the beans, they must be cooked for several hours until tender. Add in savory seasonings of onion with cloves, garlic, thyme and a bay leaf. At this point, the beans are mighty tasty as is; and my husband finished off several bowls before I finished the casserole.
I am keep this cookbook out on my counter; there are several more recipes that I plan on making again, favorites from those years. Back in the 1970’s and 1980’s we were just getting used to the idea of reducing saturated fat and cholesterol; I’m sure some of these recipes can be adapted along those lines.
This recipe is reprinted as is with permission from the author, Anna Thomas.
Baked Beans à la Charente
- 1 lb dried white beans
- salted water
- 1 medium onion stuck with 2 or 3 cloves
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 small onion chopped
- 1 cup thick tomato paste
- 1 cup cooking liquid from beans
- 2 Tbsp dried parsley
- 1/4 cup cognac
- 1/2 cup dry red table wine
- salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tomatoes (optional)
- 1 eggplant (optional)
- olive oil (optional)
Method and Steps:
- Soak the washed beans overnight in water to cover.
- Then, pour them into a large pot, adding more water, the onion stuck with 2 or 3 cloves, the garlic, thyme and bay leaf. Simmer gently for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until the beans are tender.
- Drain, reserving 1 cup of the liquid; discard the onion, bay leaf and garlic.
- Melt the butter in a skillet and sauté the chopped onion until it is tender. Add the tomato paste, the parsley, the liquid from the beans, the cognac, and the wine. (Use good wine and a good cognac — it is very important to the flavor of the beans.)
- This sauce should simmer for at least 15 minutes, or until it is slightly thickened and reduced. Season it with a little salt, lots of fresh ground black pepper, and a little Worcestershire sauce.
- Pour the drained beans into the sauce and mix this well. Rub a large casserole lightly with olive oil, then pour the beans into it.
- Now, if you want to be fancy, slice the eggplant (without peeling it) into 1/2-inch slices, and also slice the tomatoes.
- Brush the eggplant with olive oil and put them under the broiler for a few minutes.
- Dust all the slices with salt and pepper and overlap them — alternating eggplant and tomato — in a circular fashion on top of the beans.
- Cover the casserole and bake at 325 beans for 1 to 1-1/2 hours.
- Serve hot. Makes 6 servings.
From: The Vegetarian Epicure, 1972. Random House: New York. Used with permission of the author, Anna Thomas.