Beans are a frugal food that has intergrity. By that I mean two things: first, it’s good for the environmental and beyond ethical reproach. And second, it’s a whole food. It’s not some processed imitation of a non-vegetarian thing. It’s its own actual thing.
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Earlier this year, I published 10 ideas of great bean dishes from Central American, Middle Eastern, Europe and the US, and I promised you recipes. So now I’m getting around to them – here we go!
Your first question may be: “How do I get my belly used to eating beans?” They sure are high in fiber, which is great for some people and scary for others. Let me put your mind at ease. There are two main tips I can offer, that I’m quite sure will work. First, eat more beans…on a schedule. Making it a weekly routine will ensure you’re consistently presenting this food to your gut. Practice makes perfect. Second, follow this recipe to cook your own beans! I’ve really found it to make a big difference in the air quality around here, if you know what I mean.
Cooking Basic Beans
This is the recipe for “big beans,” which include black beans, most of those red and white ones, Italian specialties bigger than a black bean, pintos and chickpeas. I learned most of these tips from Cynthia Lair’s Feeding the Whole Family: Recipes for Babies, Young Children, and Their Parents. That is an absolutely brilliant book which can snap you out of the routine of cooking “kid foods” and get the whole family eating healthier, more interesting meals without a fuss.
I’m going to mention some ingredients that may seem strange, first among them being Kombu, which is a type of sea vegetable. This stuff is awesome. According to nutrition educator Casey Seidenberg, it is high in iodine, iron, calcium, and vitamins A & C. But more importantly, it contains an enzyme that breaks down raffinose sugars in beans, making your digestion more effective and less gassy. It will do wonders for your gut, but it will *not* make your beans taste fishy, in case you were worried.
Easy Steps to Tender Beans
So the first thing to do is to soak your beans for at least four hours, or overnight. If you leave them more than 12 hours, you’ll want to change the water at some point in there. If you really leave them too long, they will sprout, or they might grow other microorganisms. So it’s best to get a routine whereby you soak beans every Friday night or put them in to soak on a certain morning as part of your routine. You can also do a quick soak by putting beans and cold water on the stove until it boils, then removing it from the heat and letting it sit, covered, for an hour. I think the long soak works better, though.
After soaking, drain off the soak water (give it to your plants!). Then put the beans and fresh water (at about a 1:3 ratio), along with a chipotle pepper, into a pot and put on the stove at medium heat. Removing the seeds and pith from inside the pepper will make it less spicy, but I don’t find it very spicy at all, so I usually don’t bother. While that’s heating up, soak one strip of kombu in cold water in another container for five minutes, then add to the beans.
As the beans heat up, you’ll see some foam form on top. You can skim off the foam – this may also help reduce gassiness. Then turn down to a simmer, cover, *set a timer* (yes, I’ve burned beans to the bottom of a pot before) and simmer for about an hour, or until really soft. I usually set the timer for less so that I can make sure the water doesn’t all boil off too fast.
Near the end of the cooking time, add about 3/4 tsp. salt per cup of dry beans. You could also use miso or soy sauce instead of salt.
Test for doneness by trying to mash a bean against the roof of your mouth with your tongue. I like to cook them until I can do that but before they disintegrate completely. Then I pour them into a jar or container, with enough of the liquid to cover, let it cool, and stick it in the fridge.
Eating the Beans You Cooked
Making some kind of bean salad with vinegar-based dressing is another great way to reduce gas-causing raffinose sugars. Here’s an easy recipe:
Black Bean and Corn Salad
1 cup dried black beans, cooked (or 1 can black beans)
2 ears of corn, cooked and cut off the cob
1 tomato, chopped
1 stalk celery
2 green onions
2 tbsp. fresh cilantro, parsley or basil
2 cloves garlic
juice of 2 limes
salt & pepper to taste.
Chop and combine ingredients, and enjoy!
To enjoy hot beans, I sauté some chopped onion in a skillet, then add beans to warm them up, maybe add ground cumin or hot sauce or other vegetables, and enjoy! You can also go from the soaking step directly to cooking them into soups or use recipes for seasoned beans (usually with tomato, peppers, onion, cumin, etc.). But I find that just that chipotle pepper and kombu is enough for a pretty nice flavor!
So when you’re wondering what to cook next week, remember: beans are the answer. As long as you prepare them with care, they’ll fill you up cheaply and ethically and keep those internal processes running smoothly.