Interview – Julie Van Rosendaal & Sue Duncan

The latest project for Calgary-based broadcaster, blogger and cookbook author Julie Van Rosendaal, is a cookbook collaboration with her good friend Sue Duncan. The subject matter? BEANS!

Full of humorous stories and anecdotes, Spilling the Beans is an informative guide to everything bean related that will help guide you towards a healthier, fiber filled lifestyle. Julie and Sue provide you with the tools and knowledge on how best to prepare and cook a variety of beans, lentils and grains. Recipes range from appetizers to desserts and are sure to please established legume lovers as well as the rookies.

Julie and Sue were recently at Well Seasoned Gourmet Food Store, where they spent the evening cooking up tasty dishes from their new book. I got a chance to sit down with them before their class to chat about Spilling the Beans.

What was your inspiration behind writing a cookbook entirely about beans?

Sue: Julie and her husband were visiting us during the 2010 Winter Olympics, and when the two of us get together it seems like we always end up in the middle of a strange cooking project!

Julie: Always.

Sue: On this particular visit we tackled homemade lard! So while we spent long hours in the kitchen toiling over our lard, somehow we got to talking about beans. We both agreed that beans are often a neglected area in most people’s culinary skill set. People are curious and interested in learning more about beans, but most cookbooks on this subject are either frighteningly hippie or staunch vegetarian.

Julie: People want more fibre in their diet, and when most people think of fibre they automatically turn to whole grains. But beans are far higher in fibre than whole grains, plus they contain protein. The problem is that most people don’t know what to do with a bean! Another thing that people don’t know is that beans are a huge Canadian crop, particularly in the Prairies. Nowadays people are eating for environmental reasons as well as health, hence Meatless Mondays etc. But if you look at beans, they are fantastic for the environment! They are good for crop rotation as the legumes fix the nitrates in the soil, resulting in less work for the farmers and a decreased need for chemicals.

It’s funny because I have no problem using canned beans and do so frequently, but for some reason the idea of dried beans freaks me out. Is this a common issue for people with beans or am I just crazy?!

Sue: You are not alone! But people need to know there is no shame in using canned beans. Nutritionally they still have all the fibre, all the protein. If you are concerned about sodium content, just be sure to rinse the beans first.

Julie: People tend to get hung up on the soaking time, the cooking time, the variety of bean. First of all; you cannot really over soak your beans. With lentils, there is no need to presoak them at all! As for the cooking times, it depends on the size and age of the beans (older beans will take longer to cook). In terms of different types of beans, most are interchangeable.

Sue: It’s more often just an aesthetic preference. Chickpeas, lentils…those are a little more distinct in flavour and texture. But when it comes to white beans? It’s all pretty much the same.


So what is the main difference between canned and dried beans?

Julie: Canned beans are softer and mushier, making them perfect for baking. Little known piece of information (this factoid always gives me goose bumps because I am such a fibre nerd!) if you take a 19oz can of puréed kidney beans to a batch of white bread or cinnamon buns, you are actually adding more fibre than if you used whole wheat flour. It looks and tastes like white bread but is healthier for you than whole wheat bread. Cool, eh?!


Wow. You really are a fibre nerd!

Both: [Laugh]


Any steadfast rules for swapping out different kinds of beans in your recipes?

Sue: Not really. For the baking recipes we stuck to white beans just because visually it would look odd to have black beans in your pizza dough! Salads, soups…feel free to improvise in terms of the types of beans used.


Were you previously using beans in your baking or is this a new discovery?

Julie: Before starting work on this book, we had done some experimenting with beans in baked goods. I’ve used white beans in cookies quite a bit, and black bean brownies have been around for a long time, but putting them in bread dough was new for us. We discovered all sorts of new ways to use beans in our baking. For example; cooked red lentils have the taste and texture of oats making them a perfect addition to scones, muffins or cookies.


So were there any recipes you tried that just didn’t work with beans?

Both: Oh yes!

Sue: We definitely experienced a lot of recipe disasters along the way! For example; there were these chocolate chip cookies I made using chickpea flour. At first they tasted pretty good, but the longer they cooled the worse they tasted!

After completing this book, were you both beaned out?!

Sue: Not really. In fact on days when we didn’t eat beans we both kinda missed eating them.

Although I should add that I think our families were pretty beaned out by the end!


Okay you know I’ve got to ask: beans and flatulence. What’s the deal ladies?!

Julie: “Beans, beans the musical fruit. The more you eat – the less you toot.”

Sue: Basically your body adapts to an increased amount of beans in your diet. But if you happen to be a real meat and potatoes type of person, I would suggest gradually increasing the amount and frequency of beans you consume so as not to overwhelm your system.

Julie: Sometimes it can also help to soak the beans, rinse them and change the water.


Julie, you are the author of a number of cookbooks. In Spilling the Beans your Dad (who is a doctor) contributed to your book by providing up-to-date health information. How much fun was it to write this book with your father and your good friend Sue?

Julie: It was so much fun collaborating with Sue! We’d go off and work on different things on our own, but it was so nice to be able to share our recipe triumphs (and failures!) together. Working with my Dad was also a great experience, although his original copy was written very much in the style of a medical journal so we had to ‘groom’ it a little bit!


Julie, what some people may not realize is that you took the photos that appear in the book. Typical food blogger! Did you enjoy taking the pics yourself?

Julie: Yes it was fun! Sue came and helped me with the food styling which was great. When we were testing the recipes it just seemed to make sense that we take the photos at the same time. Kill two birds with one stone so to speak.


The overall design and photographs in the book make beans look sexy! Going into this project did you have a visual idea of what you’d like it to look like?

Sue: Right from the beginning of this project we knew we wanted to make beans seem approachable and appealing. Whatever it takes to make people eat more beans!


Do either of you have a favourite type of bean?

Julie: If I was forced to choose just one variety, I’d have to say I couldn’t live without chickpeas.

Sue: And lentils!


What advice do you have for people wanting to include more beans into their diets?

Julie: Just do it!

Don’t worry about whether you should use canned or dried beans, don’t stress over using a specific variety, and go slowly when first adding them to your diet.

To read more of our interviews with professional and celebrity chefs, please visit the Sound Bites section

Photo courtesy of Whitecap Books

For more information on Julie visit her website
For more information on Sue visit her website

For more information on this book, visit Whitecap Books

For a full list of upcoming cooking classes at Well Seasoned Gourmet Store, please visit their website