What Is Bean Relish?

Dan Harkins

Beans are a vegetarian staple — a healthy way to pack in protein without all that meat weighing on the conscience. One creative use of legumes is in a bean relish, utilizing either a single type of bean or a medley for a more diverse texture and flavor profile. Though recipes vary widely, this side dish, topping, stuffing or salad typically includes diced vegetables like onions, corn, peppers and herbs, along with olive oil and other liquids that add a little tartness, such as vinegar or copious squeezings of citrus.

Kidney beans, which are often included in bean relish.
Kidney beans, which are often included in bean relish.

Being vegetarian is not a requirement for enjoying bean relish, though. This relish adds color, flavor and texture to many types of meals. Some use it to add Latin flair to a seared fillet of seafood or chicken. Others cooks might stuff it into a tortilla or eat it as-is with tortilla chips for a fresh and vibrant starter.

Gabanzo beans, which can be used to make bean relish.
Gabanzo beans, which can be used to make bean relish.

The types of legumes used in bean relish depend on the taste of the chef making it. Some stick with a single type. Others use several types for added color and texture. Since some beans take longer to cook than others, using a medley will take a little timing. Many cooks will avoid this hurdle by using canned beans that are already cooked.

Among the more popular choices of beans are black, red and kidney beans. That is not to say that other types would not be acceptable. Many recipes call for chickpeas, pinto beans, garbanzo beans and even the giant white beans. The more beans that are used, the more colorful a bean relish will be.

Bean relish typically has a pickled taste due to some sort of acidic liquid like vinegar or citrus. For instance, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse's black bean relish unites black beans and various vegetables like corn, peppers, onions, garlic and cherry tomatoes with the juice of eight limes. By contrast, chef Guy Fieri uses four types of beans — white, pinto, black and chickpeas — with similar diced vegetables but a liquid composed of extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar.

Perhaps the most iconic type of relish is made with pickles and used predominantly on hot dogs. Gourmet chefs would think otherwise. To them, a relish is considered a complex condiment. This could be a chutney, a pickled vegetable medley known as piccalilli, or a historic American relish called chow-chow, which is pickled vegetables bathed in bold mustard.

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