Packed with nutrition, nearly fat free and inexpensive, beans and other legumes hold an important place in many world cuisines. Because of their mild flavor, they invite the addition of hearty spices and other seasonings.

Americans ate 7.8 pounds of beans in 2000—an increase of more than one-third compared to the amount they consumed 15 years earlier. Demographic changes account partly for the increase: the population is now 11 percent Hispanic and they eat 33 percent of the beans. A trend paralleling the increase in bean consumption is the remarkable popularity of “hot” seasonings, a category that includes ground black pepper, red pepper and ginger. It now accounts for nearly half of spice sales in the U.S., according to the American Spice Trade Association (ASTA).

South-of-the-border bean stews and entrees often rely on big-flavored spice blends made with cumin, garlic and chiles such as chipotles (dried, smoked jalapenos). Rice, cooked in the Caribbean style with coconut milk, onion and garlic, is the perfect partner for black beans seasoned with cumin, chili powder, bay leaves and garlic. These Latin flavors can be incorporated into dry mixes or frozen meal-in-a-bag entrees. Alternatively, seasoned beans and cheese could be rolled in tortillas—with or without ground beef—to create frozen, microwave-friendly burritos.

A savory mix of instant garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano, thyme, ground red pepper and cinnamon forms a flavor base for a vegetarian chili made with bulgur, chickpeas and red kidney beans (recipe available). New Orleans-style red beans and rice get a kick from onion, bell pepper, garlic, bay leaves, thyme and a dash of allspice. Hoppin' John, a Southern favorite, unites black-eyed peas and rice with the hearty flavors of bacon, onion, rosemary, thyme and black pepper.

Beans add texture and nutrition to soups, while spices add gusto. Again, hot-climate cuisines carry the day. A zippy Southwestern bean bisque has a base of creamy refried pinto beans and chicken stock, with onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano and cilantro stirred in. A sophisticated black bean soup, puréed until silky smooth, gets its flavor from dry sherry, carrot, celery, onion, ham hock and lemon, plus oregano, bay leaves, thyme and black pepper.

Inspiration for a dried or canned soup might come from a legume-based dal traditional to Indian meals. A simple combination of ground ginger, garlic powder, turmeric and ground red pepper gives a bold taste to yellow split peas (recipe available). Or, the blend might be a more complex Indian curry made with additional spices (up to a dozen), including coriander, mustard seeds and cumin.

“Texas caviar,” a salad that could easily be packed in jars, is a sense-stirring blend of black-eyed peas marinated with garlic, salsa, chilies, cumin, red bell pepper, oil and vinegar. Lentil Salad (shown on p. 69) has a southern French accent that can be traced to red wine vinaigrette laced with onion, garlic, chives, tarragon and black pepper.

Veggie burgers, nuggets and crumbles are growing in popularity. So what's the new twist? It could be beans, blended with wheat, rice or soy flour, and given a distinctive flavor profile: Southwestern-style bean burgers with roasted bell peppers, cumin, garlic, chili powder and oregano, for instance, or an Asian mix of soy sauce, ginger, garlic, black pepper and sesame seeds. Or, give a nod to Thai cuisine by adding garlic, lemongrass, peanuts, fish sauce, red pepper flakes and cilantro. Spicy black-eyed pea fritters called akara (recipe available) hail from West Africa; they're seasoned liberally with onion powder, cumin, ground red pepper and garlic powder and fried in peanut oil.

Other snappy bean and spice combos include crunchy snacks such as fried or baked soybeans or chickpeas, rolled first in chili powder, paprika, garlic and dried cheese or, for sweet 'n' spicy notes, coated with sugar, ground red pepper, cinnamon and salt.

A formula for leavened bread or flatbread gains moisture and protein from the addition of puréed beans. For example, consider stirring mashed soy, pinto or adzuki beans into whole-wheat or rye yeast bread along with onion, rosemary and basil. In cornbread, red pinto beans are a natural with ground chilies and cumin.

Sidebar: Lentil and Squash Salad

2 cups lentils, rinsed and picked over
2 tablespoons instant minced onion
1-1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
1-1/2 teaspoons garlic powder, divided
3/4 cup olive oil, divided
2 cups quartered and sliced yellow squash
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon freeze-dried chives
1-1/2 teaspoons tarragon leaves, crushed
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese

Tarragon, chives and goat cheese add French flair to this lentil salad.
In a medium-sized saucepan, place lentils, 2-1/2 cups water, minced onion and 1 teaspoon each of the salt and garlic powder. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, until lentils are slightly softened, about 10 minutes.

Stir in squash, celery, carrot and 1/4 cup of the olive oil; cook until lentils and vegetables are softened, 10 to 15 minutes longer. On a large baking sheet, spread lentil mixture; cool about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine vinegar, chives, tarragon, black pepper and the remaining 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon garlic and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Place lentil mixture in serving bowl; toss with dressing; serve at room temperature. Sprinkle with goat cheese and garnish with lettuce leaves, if desired. Yield: 6 portions (about 7-1/2 cups)

This recipe for beans was developed for Prepared Foods by the test kitchen of the American Spice Trade Association. Additional recipes on this theme are available at For spice-related articles, visit a href="">, click on the “Browse by Ingredient” button and select “Spices, Seasonings & Blends.”