After 15 years of trial and error I thought I got my kids’ eating habits under control...then it all fell apart. My older daughter decided she was kosher - no pork, crustaceans, or meat and dairy together. On top of that she hates fish. Her sister became a pescatairan - she only eats fish and crustaceans. My son, the mommy's boy, remained an omnivore, for now.
And then there’s me on a diet that calls for frequent jolts of lean unprocessed protein to keep blood sugar in check and fend off hunger, and I’m not allowed dairy. Oh, and did I mention budget?
So we need a magic protein, one that is neither seafood, nor meat or dairy, one that’s lean, unprocessed and inexpensive. We need beans.
I know some of you must have bad experiences with beans but personally, I adore them. My love for them is so vast I can’t contain it in one blog post and will have to write a couple. And I promise to give you recipes so good they can make it into your holiday parties.
Beans have creamy textures, delicate flavors and they are so rich and satisfying it’s hard to believe they are so inexpensive and healthy. Besides being an excellent source of protein, beans are unique weight-loss food because of their very high levels of fiber and something called resistant starch, which is carbohydrates that are not broken down by our digestion. The fiber-resistant starch combo reduces the number of calories absorbed from beans. So, in short, the more you eat, the less calories you absorb...
Sounds too good to be true. Well, there are those famous pitfalls: long cooking time and sound effects. But I’m here to debunk both myths.
As for the latter, an easy - if not total - remedy is to let the cause of discomfort (a chemical named oligosaccharides) leach out. You do that by soaking the beans for 8 hours or overnight and then draining and rinsing. Long soaking also has great culinary benefits. It gives beans that delightful creamy texture while keeping them whole.
You can also try varieties that are easier to digest. Pinto beans, black-eyed peas, black beans and chickpeas are relatively benign.
The other issue with beans is that they are not something you pull out of the cabinet at the end of day, but a food that needs its time to soak and cook. This leads to people reaching for the canned stuff which often is bland, mushy and hard to digest. I suspect they guilty of giving beans their bad raps.
But you CAN turn beans into something you reach out for in the spur of the moment. Here is the secret: When you come back from the market with a bag of beans DO NOT STORE THEM. Instead, place them in a stockpot, cover with water at least 2 inches above beans’ level, and soak. The next day or after 8 hours drain, cook (recipe below) and let cool in its cooking liquid (a practice that contributes immensely to texture and flavor). Then freeze in small batches. My freezer is filled ziplocked beans. At dinner time, instead of opening a can, I grab a bag, defrost the beans, and use them as base for endless dinner options.
And before I proceed to the master recipe, Whole Earth Center is now stocking the legendary Rancho Gordo Beans from Napa Valley. I will devote a whole blog post for them, because they are so amazing. Just a quick gift idea: get a few varieties of Rancho Gordo Beans from Whole Earth and the Rancho Gordo cookbook from Amazon. Your foodie or vegetarian friends will appreciate it.
Beans, A Master Recipe
I like to cook my beans in a good vegetable or chicken stock, low-sodium from the store or homemade but water is perfectly fine.
As for salt - if you are serving the beans right away, add a little salt at the beginning of the cooking. It affects the texture but if the beans are high quality it shouldn’t be so bad. If you are letting the beans cool in their cooking liquid, salt the cooking liquid at the end.
1 pound of beans
1 onion, quartered
1 carrot, peeled, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
Place beans in a large bowl and cover with water at least 2 inches above beans’ level. Let soak overnight.
Drain beans and transfer to a medium saucepan; cover with water or low sodium stock by 2 inches. Bring water to a boil, reduce heat and skim foam from surface. Continue simmering beans until tender-30 to 60 minutes-adding more water as necessary. Season beans with salt and set aside to cool in their liquid.
Ladle to 2-cup freezer ziploc bags WITH COOKING LIQUID and freeze.