If you’re looking for an alternative to fish for meatless entrees during Lent — or for that matter, all year round — how about building some meals around beans?

Crescent Dragonwagon has been evangelizing about bean cuisine for 40 years, dating back to “The Bean Book,” published in 1972, when she was just 18. Her new book, “Bean by Bean: A Cookbook” (Workman, $15.95 paperback) illustrates how the perception of beans has changed in the ensuing years, and how the number of readily available varieties has exploded.

“It went from a food of low social standing to being as it should be — a darling of people who love food,” Dragonwagon said in a phone interview from her home in Vermont. “That also goes together with the whole issue of sustainability: Beans and the legume family are the only plants that enrich the soil instead of sucking nitrogen from it.”

Although she’s “The Passionate Vegetarian” (the title of another of her books, one that won her the James Beard Award), Dragonwagon isn’t a dogmatic vegetarian. Small icons at the beginning of each recipe in “Bean by Bean” indicate if they’re vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free — or “meatist,” denoting those recipes that actually include meat.

And one method she uses to develop recipes means that many carnivores won’t miss the meat, even when a dish contains none.

“One of the things I do as a food writer is to take a classic recipe made with meat, look at it a whole lot and tinker with it according to my taste,” Dragonwagon said.

Such is the case with CD’s Chili Mole, a bean-based chili loaded with complex flavors.

“This is one of the chilis I’ve been doing since I was a vegetarian,” Dragonwagon said. “It’s based on a very old technique, but it also has very modern flavors, mixing the sweet and savory heat of chiles with the sweetness of raisins and a little honey. Then there’s the salt and a variety of spices, along with the rich unctuousness of peanut butter and sesame.”

Dragonwagon sprinkles “Bean by Bean” with unexpected historical anecdotes, such as the fact that chili powder was invented by a German immigrant in Texas.

Dragonwagon is doing limited stops on a book tour for “Bean by Bean.” For 36 years, Dragonwagon lived and ran a renowned bed-and-breakfast, Dairy Hollow House, in Eureka Springs, Ark.

As for her name, the former Ellen Zolotow gets asked about it almost constantly — so much so that one of the first things you see when you visit her website, dragonwagon.com, is an explanation. It began as an idealistic hippie-era protest against the Establishment. In the long run, however, she says that Dragonwagon was a great name for a children’s-book writer (yet another branch of her career).

Bean Basics

Crescent Dragonwagon offered these tips for buying, cooking and enjoying beans.

• Try to buy dried beans at a store that has good turnover.

“The older they get, the more difficulty there is in getting them creamy and tender,” she said. “If they’re too old, they never do get right and end up just breaking into shards.”

How do you determine how long the beans have been in the store?

“If it’s bulk, go ahead and ask when they poured the current round into the bin,” Dragonwagon said. “At the supermarket it’s a little more difficult because beans don’t have to be marked as to what year the crop is — but stay away from any packaging that looks deteriorating or dusty.”

• There are many ways to minimize beans’ famous “magical” side effects. You know, their notorious “toot.”

“If you don’t treat them right, they’ll maintain too many oligosaccharides, which are indigestible sugars,” Dragonwagon said. “I used to say to cook them in the water you soak them in, but that’s not a good practice. The more water you soak them in — and the more you change the water — the fewer oligosaccharides, because they’re soluble.”

She noted that cooking beans with sugar intensifies the problem. Smaller beans and legumes, such as lentils, have few oligosaccharides.

In addition to over-the-counter solutions such as Beano, there are traditional folk remedies such as cooking with cumin, ginger, cilantro, summer savory or an herb called epazote, which is often found in Mexican markets.

Finally, your body can adjust. Eat a lot of beans infrequently and you’re almost certain to have problems. Eat them in small quantities on a regular basis, with occasional large portions, and your digestive tract is likely to adapt.

Lemon and Ginger Spicy Beans

Yield: 4 servings

  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh ginger
  • 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon mild vegetable oil, such as sunflower oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 jalapeño or other fresh chile, seeded and finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup chopped cilantro
  • 3 (14- to 15-ounce) cans of beans, preferably three different types, drained and rinsed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Salt, optional

Place ginger, garlic and ¼ cup cold water in a blender; process until smooth.

Heat oil in a medium or large pan over medium heat. Add onion and chile and cook gently for 5 minutes or until softened. Add cayenne, cumin, coriander and turmeric; stir-fry for 1 minute.

Stir in the paste from the blender and cook for another minute. Add lemon juice, cilantro and ¾ cup water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover the pan tightly and cook for 5 minutes.

Add beans, stir gently and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until heated through. Season with pepper to taste. Season with salt to taste if using low-sodium or no-sodium-added beans.

Per serving: 300 calories; 6g fat; 0.5g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 16g protein; 46g carbohydrate; 2g sugar; 16g fiber; 540mg sodium; 115mg calcium.

• Adapted from “The Vegetarian Kitchen,” edited by Linda Fraser (Hermes House, 1999)

Marinated Lentilles Du Puy

Yield: 4 servings

  • Vegetable oil
  • 3 medium red beets with greens
  • 2 cups dried French green lentils (lentilles du Puy)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 8 cups vegetable stock, chicken stock or water
  • 1 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • ¾ cup store-bought citrus vinaigrette or homemade orange vinaigrette (see note), divided
  • Salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 large or 2 small heads romaine lettuce, leaves washed and dried
  • 3 medium oranges, peeled, seeded and sectioned
  • ½ cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat the bottom and sides of a shallow baking dish with vegetable oil.

Trim the leaves from the beets, discarding any bruised or rotten leaves. Set the greens aside. Scrub each beet and place in the prepared baking dish. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake until the beets are fork-tender, about 1 hour. Let the beets cool to room temperature, then slip them out of their skins and slice into ¼-inch-thick rounds.

Meanwhile, cook the lentils. Combine lentils, garlic, bay leaf, cinnamon stick and stock in a large pot. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and let cook, covered, until lentils are almost tender, 30 to 40 minutes.

Trim away and discard the tough stems from the beet greens. Stack the leaves, roll them into a tight cylinder, and cut them crosswise into ¼-inch ribbons. Add the sliced beet greens to the lentils and continue cooking until the lentils are fully tender but still hold their shape, about 10 minutes more.

Drain off the excess liquid and fish out and discard the bay leaf and cinnamon stick. Transfer the lentils to a large bowl; let cool to room temperature.

Toss the red onion into the lentils. Make sure the vinaigrette is fully combined and add ½ cup to the lentil mixture, tossing well to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then cover and refrigerate.

In another bowl, toss beets with the remaining ¼ cup dressing. Cover and chill. Recipe can be prepared to this point up to 2 days in advance.

About an hour before serving, bring the beets and the lentil mixture to room temperature. When ready to serve, place the romaine lettuce leaves on one large plate or divide among 4 small serving plates. Overlap the beets on top of the romaine, mound the lentil salad over that, and scatter the orange sections and toasted walnuts on top.

Note: To make your own orange vinaigrette, combine the juice and grated zest of 1 orange, 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1 clove pressed garlic, 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake well to combine, then taste and add more sweetener if desired. Use immediately or refrigerate for up to 10 days. Yield: ¾ cup.

Per serving (with homemade vinaigrette): 910 calories; 36g fat; 5g saturated fat; 15mg cholesterol; 45g protein; 113g carbohydrate; 35g sugar; 36g fiber; 1,230mg sodium; 250mg calcium.

• Adapted from “Bean by Bean,” by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman, 2012)

CD’s Chili Mole

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

  • 1 pound dried black beans, picked over, rinsed and soaked
  • 10 to 12 cups vegetable stock or broth (see note)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 ancho (dried poblano) chile, stemmed
  • 1 fresh jalapeño pepper, stemmed
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup dark raisins
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stemmed and chopped (see note)
  • 1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds (see note)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper or to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon anise seed
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika (see note)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder, preferably hot
  • Ground cloves
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 (15- to 16-ounce) can chopped tomatoes
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 1 to 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, diced
  • 2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, preferably natural
  • 1 tablespoon tahini or 2 tablespoons freshly toasted sesame seeds
  • 1 chipotle chile in adobo, stemmed
  • 2 teaspoons adobo sauce
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey, optional

Cook the beans. Drain soaked beans and rinse well. Place in a large, heavy pot; add enough stock to cover them by 1½ inches. Add bay leaves, ancho chile, whole stemmed jalapeno and a generous grinding of black pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1 hour. Add the raisins. Continue cooking until the beans are nearly tender and the raisins have more or less disintegrated, 30 to 60 minutes longer.

About 20 minutes or so before the beans are done, spray a large, heavy skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Place it over medium heat, add olive oil and, when it’s hot, onions. Saute onions until they start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.

Stir in bell pepper, chopped jalapeno and poblano; saute for 2 minutes. Add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ground cumin, ground coriander, oregano, cayenne, anise seed, cinnamon, paprika, chili powder and a tiny pinch of cloves. Reduce the heat slightly and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until it just becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat.

Scrape the sauted ingredients into the simmering beans. Deglaze the saute pot with a little bean stock, stirring to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return this liquid to the beans.

Add the tomatoes and their juice and the tomato paste to the bean pot and stir well. Simmer for another 10 minutes, then maintain at a simmer while you continue with the recipe.

Place chocolate, peanut butter, tahini, chipotle and adobo sauce in a food processor or blender. Add a generous ladleful of the simmering beans (including the whole ancho and jalapeño, if you can find them) and process to make a thick, highly seasoned paste.

Scrape the paste into the bean pot, turn the heat down as low as possible and add a generous portion of salt to taste. Simmer slowly, partially covered, until the seasonings are well blended, about 20 minutes longer.

Just before serving, pick out the bay leaves. If desired, mash a couple of ladlefuls of the beans against the sides of the pot to thicken the chili. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary, adding agave syrup or honey if more sweetness is desired. Serve immediately or let come to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, overnight and reheat very gently the next day.

Note: A 12-ounce bottle of beer can be substituted for 1½ cups of the stock. Seed the chopped jalapeno that’s used in the saute for a milder chili. If you don’t have coriander seeds, increase the amount of ground coriander to 3½ teaspoons. Substitute ½ teaspoon smoked paprika for ½ teaspoon of the sweet paprika, if desired.

Per serving (based on 10): 340 calories; 12g fat; 2.5g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 14g protein; 48g carbohydrate; 12g sugar; 13g fiber; 915mg sodium; 93mg calcium.

• Adapted from “Bean by Bean,” by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman, 2012)

Mjeddrah (Middle Eastern Lentil Pilaf)

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

  • ½ cup brown or red lentils, picked over and rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, halved vertically and thinly sliced crosswise
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 1 rib celery, with leaves, finely minced
  • ½ cup long-grain brown rice
  • ½ teaspoon whole or ground cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small dried red chile, stemmed and broken in half
  • 1½-inch piece of cinnamon stick
  • Seeds from 2 to 4 whole cardamom pods
  • Salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper

If using brown lentils, soak by bringing 2 cups of water to a boil in a large pot, adding the lentils, turning off the heat and letting the lentils soak for a few hours. If using red lentils, pour 4½ cups water into a pot (do not heat) and add the lentils.

At least an hour before serving, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and saute, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes. Add carrots and celery and saute for 3 minutes.

Scrape the vegetables into the pot containing the lentils. If using the presoaked brown lentils, add 3 cups water. Add rice, cumin, garlic, chile, cinnamon and cardamom seeds.

Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, checking occasionally and adding water as needed, until lentils and rice are tender, about 1 hour. The result should be moist but not soupy. Pour off excess water, if necessary.

When lentils and rice are tender, add salt and quite a bit of pepper to taste. Remove the chile and discard, or chop it finely and return to the mixture for a spicier dish. Remove the cinnamon stick. Serve immediately or refrigerate covered overnight, then reheat.

Per serving (based on 6): 195 calories; 8g fat; 1g saturated fat; no cholesterol; 6g protein; 26g carbohydrate; 3g sugar; 6g fiber; 25mg sodium; 35mg calcium.

• Adapted from “Bean by Bean,” by Crescent Dragonwagon (Workman, 2012)