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Beans, Beans


North Americans now recognize the importance of fibre in the diet. Legumes in their most simple, whole state are substantially nutritious and fill the need for a high-fibre, low-fat diet. Most require minimal preparation.

North Americans now recognize the importance of fibre in the diet. Legumes in their most simple, whole state are substantially nutritious and fill the need for a high-fibre, low-fat diet. Most require minimal preparation. Whole foods, in their utter simplicity, need only a few added ingredients that most people have in their kitchens.

Dried beans and peas, the fruits of leguminous plants, come in a vast array of colors, shapes and sizes. Cooked, they are delicious; [sprouted]. They are a nourishing, versatile staple, each kind with its own flavor and texture. Cooked legumes can be added to everything from soup to stews, pizzas to salads, casseroles to vegetables. They can be mashed with potatoes or squash, formed into burgers or pur? as baby food.

Dried Beans

Legumes are delicious if they are prepared properly. Homegrown beans do not need as much soaking or cooking as purchased beans do. Relatively fresh beans absorb all the water they can in four hours.

Overnight soaking is convenient and probably necessary for store-bought beans, which may have been in storage for years. Soaking water should be three to four times the volume of beans. Wash the beans in a strainer and discard any debris. Place beans in a large pot to soak.

After soaking, drain and rinse the beans. Discard soaking liquid. Cover them with the same amount of fresh cold water. Do not add salt until beans are at the desired doneness. (Many ingredients tend to halt the tenderizing process. Likewise, sauces. It’s best to cook the beans, then season them or add them to a sauce.)

Bring the pot to a boil, reduce the heat and keep partially covered to prevent foaming. (Adding one tablespoon [15 mL] vegetable oil per cup of beans before cooking will also prevent foaming.) Soybeans, especially, tend to bubble up.

The texture of cooked beans greatly affects their appeal, so cooking time is important. Depending on the type of bean, how you’ll use it and the texture you want, you’ll cook beans for different lengths of time. Most homegrown beans do well with about 50 minutes and rarely need an hour. This leaves a little chewiness to complement their taste. Commercial varieties will likely take closer to two hours; chick peas may take longer; soybeans need about 90 minutes. A good test for doneness is to let a bean cool and press it lightly between the tongue and roof of the mouth. If it breaks easily, it’s done.

Beans and Vegetables Together

We like saut?g because direct heat brings out the vegetables’ oils, especially for potent ones like onions and garlic, yet allows harsher flavors to evaporate. A slow saut?t medium heat will bring veggies to their peak of flavor, which is sealed by a small portion of oil or butter. We generally use unsalted butter, olive or safflower oil. To reduce fat intake, saut?oods in a liquid (water, stock, low-sodium soy sauce) over medium heat. We often begin a saut?then add a bit of liquid to finish the cooking. In all cases, stir frequently to prevent scorching or sticking and avoid overcooking! Vegetables should be on the crunchy side to retain nutrients. It’s for this reason that we seldom peel vegetables unless they have been waxed. Most nutrients are stored just beneath the skin.

A Word About Flatulence

Perhaps the simplest advice we can give about the gas factor in beans is to slow down, chew longer and give the digestive process a proper start. Be sure not to ingest soaking water (house plants like it) and if any difficulty persists, avoid liquids till at least 15 minutes after your meal. The other antidote is to grow your own beans–recently harvested ones are easier to digest and far superior nutritionally to the bulk bin varieties.

The Taste Test

You just can’t appreciate the diversity of legumes until you’ve tasted several at one sitting, so do a taste test. We try four varieties at a time, if only due to the limited number of burners on the stove! Buy one-quarter to one-half cup [60-125 mL] of each variety you want to test. The amount depends on the number of "tasters." To keep track of the names, we label and soak each bean varitey in a glass or small dish. During cooking, we place the containers beside the appropriate burner, then spoon the beans back into them for the test. In tasting a new variety, or comparing several, we like them "naked" for a true reading. We pass the dish back and forth, each savoring a mouthful well before sharing our response. Make some notes on the varieties you like the most.

Sound Nutrition

Beans have many factors in their favor. They are one of the five least allergenic foods. They are high in protein and are well-endowed with thiamine, niacin, vitamin B6 and folic acid as well as calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium. The fibre in beans helps keep the digestive system clean and promotes regularity.

Beans are a boon to diabetics, hypoglycemics and those on weight-loss diets. For one, they retain water in the digestive tract, which promotes a feeling of fullness and delays the return of hunger. In addition, only two to six per cent of the calories in beans are derived from fat, in contrast to 75 to 85 percent for meat and cheese. The only exception is soybeans, which have 34 percent fat calories. As with all beans, though, the fat is polyunsaturated and less harmful than the fat in animal products. Beans are cholesterol-free and recent research shows that they even contain a chemical that fights the deposit of fat globules in veins and arteries. Not only do they control blood cholesterol, they also control glucose. Unlike other carbohydrate foods, such as bread, cereals, potatoes and pasta, beans don’t trigger a rise in blood sugar or require that the pancreas pour out extra insulin to readjust the glucose level in the blood.

Many people are worried about getting enough protein, yet our protein needs have been greatly exaggerated. The average American consumes 90 to 120 grams per day, when the US government-recommended intake is between 20 and 40 grams a day.



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Leah PayneLeah Payne