YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Beans, Beans, They’re Good for Your Heart!

Many years ago, my vegetarian sister had a boyfriend whose mother served her “bean loaf” when she went to their home. Its dreadful, unappetizing name was nothing like its wonderful flavor, so my sister and I renamed it “chickpea pie.” The chickpea pie recipe stuck around for much longer than the vegetarianism (and the boyfriend). I sure wish I could find that recipe again. Chickpeas, like peanuts and lentils and edamame (soybeans), are a type of bean.

Beans are the one food that’s are high in both protein and fiber, and that makes them delicious, nutritious, and satisfying, not to mention magical. You already knew this! Every culture has its own version of the “Jack & the Beanstalk” story. We’ve been teaching our children that beans are magic for hundreds of years at the very least. Beans are on the list of superfoods foods that prevent diabetes and obesity. Yet considering they’re so good for us, we don’t eat them all that often. Many people aren’t even sure what to do with them. Over the past 100 years or so, home-based food wisdom has been a major casualty of the industrialization of food, and beans are a good example of that wisdom.

There’s so much wisdom in the advice we receive at the dinner table. Some of these aphorisms I learned at home, and others elsewhere:

“Eat your vegetables.”
“Chew your food.”
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
“Eat slowly.”
“Don’t eat standing up.”
“The more colors on your plate, the better.”
“Eat the rainbow.”

Here are a few more:

“Eat close to the garden.”
“Don’t buy products whose ingredients you can’t pronounce.”
“Don’t buy products with more than four ingredients.”
“Choose foods that have been through as few machines as possible.”

These are all different ways of saying the same thing: Eat food, not manufactured calories. There is so much more to these sayings than meets the eye. Human beings have a lot of innate knowledge about food. For example, it appears that chicken fat may have antiviral properties. That makes a lot of sense to me. Why else would my medical school classmate, Xenia, have brought me chicken soup that one time when I had a cold? Everyone knows that you’re supposed to drink chicken soup when you’re sick. Not tomato soup, or New England clam chowder. It looks like chicken soup may not just be about the steam.

A few years ago I read a 1991 NYT article called, “To Reclaim Their Health and Heritage, Arizona Indians Reclaim Ancient Foods,” about native Americans learning methods of food preparation traditionally used by their ancestors. A return to a diet consisting primarily of beans, greens, whole grains, and high-fiber plant foods normalizes digestion, hunger, blood sugar, and weight.

Whereas beans can be grown, soaked, sprouted, slow-cooked, and dried, my bean pot recipes all have pretty much the same approach: Collect a bunch of ingredients, throw them into a covered pot, and cook them over low heat for a long time. You will not be sorry. These recipes are delicious. If you’d like to add a meat bone or a piece of flank steak, then go right ahead. But that’s entirely optional. 

Black-eyed peas with vegetables and pasta
1/2 lb. dry black-eyed peas
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large carrots, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1/4 c. tomato paste dissolved in 1/2 c. water
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. hot pepper flakes
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1/2 c. whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 c. chopped cooked spinach or greens
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Boil the black-eyed peas in a large soup pot on the stove for 5 minutes, and drain.  Add onion, carrots, pepper, pasta, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, hot pepper and 1/4 cup olive oil. Cover with water by 2 inches, cover the pot, and place it in a 300F oven for 2-3 hours. Taste and adjust seasoning. Stir in the greens and vinegar. Allow to cool 10 minutes before serving.

White baked beans
1 heaping c. dry white navy beans
1/4 c. dry chick peas
1 large onion, chopped
4 carrots, peeled and sliced in small rounds
3 Tbsp. hot sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
4-5 c. water
4 whole raw eggs, still in their shells

Start this the night before if it’s for lunch, or at 8 a.m. if it’s for dinner. Place ingredients in a deep casserole dish. Add enough water to cover the ingredients by two or three inches. Cover the bean pot and place in 250F oven. Turn down to 200F degrees after 2-3 hours. Check it a few times to make sure there is enough water just to cover the beans. The eggs absorb the flavor of the broth through the shells to become the most amazing hard-boiled eggs you’ve ever eaten.

Exotic white beans (Thank you, Jean!)
1 c. dry white beans
1 large red onion, chopped
¼ c. sun dried tomatoes
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. thai roasted red chili paste
5 c. water

Directions are identical to the recipe above, although Jean said that somehow she cooked the beans at 350F for 3 hours, and then 250F for a couple more hours, and then accidentally turned off the oven overnight. The beans were soft and delicious anyway. These recipes are very forgiving.

Black beans
1 c. dry black beans
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic
3 tomatoes
2 whole oranges, peeled and chopped into small pieces
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
3 Tbsp. molasses
1 tsp. salt
5 c. water

Place ingredients in a deep casserole dish. Add enough water to cover the ingredients by two or three inches. Cover the bean pot and place in 250F oven. Turn down to 200F degrees after 2-3 hours.

What Does Dr. Sukol Eat?

Folks make a lot of assumptions about what I eat. In recent weeks it’s been announced (in my presence, and not by me) that I eat vegan, as well as Paleo, that I follow Weight Watchers, and that I’m just lucky, whatever that is, so I can eat whatever I want. In a funny way, this last part is true; I do eat whatever I want. It’s just not what you might think I want. At the grocery store, you can watch my neighbors taking nonchalant peeks into my grocery cart. So I’m going to spare you the trouble and explain it myself, right here and now.

For breakfast this morning, I had a cup of black coffee, a handful of grapes and a big bowl of soup, a perfect choice for a day when the temperature is 15F. Made late last week, this simple soup had just a few ingredients: turkey stock, turkey meat, greens (swiss chard, bok choy), and the juice of a squeezed lemon. That’s all and that’s enough. I made the stock from a leftover turkey carcass. [Place the carcass in a large soup pot, cover with water, add a tablespoon of vinegar, cover with the lid and cook in oven at 200F for 18-24 hours. Then strain through a colander lined with cheesecloth.] Nothing wasted.

What’s for lunch? Let me preface the answer to this question with a very important caveat: I almost always (99%) bring my lunch to work. It might be leftovers from the previous night’s dinner, like stew or vegetables. It often contains some beans, tofu, chicken, or fish. Or an avocado, sprinkled with salt, or a bowl of homemade soup (which I bring to work in a tightly sealed Ball jar), and a couple pieces of fruit. Favorite fruits this time of year are clementines, oranges, bananas. At the moment, the kitchen counter also holds two Chinese apples and a large, beautiful, red pomegranate. Afternoon snack consists of nuts (any and all kinds), another piece of fruit, and usually a piece of dark chocolate. I keep a small knife and small flat cutting board in my desk drawer at work to slice up apples, oranges, and the occasional mango.

Dinner might be salmon, cod, bean soup, eggs poached in tomato sauce, salmon, turkey meatballs, canned tuna. There is always a green salad, and always a vegetable, like asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, eggplant, carrots, or celery (braised, steamed, sauteed, or roasted). Sometimes there are a couple of vegetables, but one is always green. There is the occasional sweet potato (baked), quinoa, kasha, or brown rice, but never more than once or twice a week. On the nights when no one has time to cook dinner, I heat up leftovers and make a salad. Salad means lettuce, olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt, and that is all. Rarely, a few olives get sprinkled on, or maybe some cucumber or tomato slices. Very rarely.

So, what do I eat? Well, it’s not any of the diets listed above, at least not exactly. I eat no gluten, which means no wheat, barley, or rye. I eat no dairy, so there’s no milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream. Why? Let’s just say that, for many reasons, it’s better that way. I highly recommend it. And I eat virtually no processed food-like items. No soda, no corn syrup or modified corn starch. No “vegetable oil,” and that goes double if it’s partially hydrogenated. The benefits of avoiding manufactured calories cannot be overstated.

Well then, what do I eat? Everything else. Real food, and plenty of it. Like loads of vegetables and fruit, and fish. Occasional beef or poultry. Eggs. Nuts. Beans (often in soup). Some whole grains. A friend pointed out that my diet probably has significantly more variety than the standard American diet, heavily weighted as it is with wheat, corn, and soy. Since I eat virtually no processed food-like items, pretty much the only corn I eat is straight off the cob, and the only soy I eat is from a bowl of fresh, green edamame.

Today for lunch I had marinated broccoli salad, sautéed box choy, leftover salmon, and a few salty black olives. I think I’ll make scrambled eggs and tomatoes tomorrow.

And what did my most recent set of lab results show? The total cholesterol was 186 (goal: below 200), and HDL cholesterol was 76 (goal: above 55). LDL was 92 (goal: below 130), and triglycerides were 92 (goal: below 150). My fasting blood sugar was 82, and my average blood sugar over the past 3 months was 100 (corresponding to a Hemoglobin A1C of 5.1). My B12 levels were in the normal range, which means that my diet supplies a generous amount of B12. The last time my Vitamin D level was checked, it was in the 40’s. I probably could use a supplement in the winter, when I both leave for and return home from work in the dark. In the summer I like to walk outside in the light every day.

So how am I doing? 

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Joe Gardewin’s Ginseng Chicken Salad

My friend Joe recently invented a recipe that he calls “Ginseng Chicken Salad.” It all started with a recipe called Korean-style Ginseng Chicken, from Growing Up in a Korean Kitchen,* which he says is by far the best Korean cookbook he has, and I think that’s saying a lot (!). He especially likes it because the recipes are very similar to recipes his wife used to make. If you don’t happen to have a copy of Joe’s special cookbook, which I do not, you can use the leftovers from a boiled or roasted chicken recipe. I am proud to share this recipe here with you. He’s invented something good.

1 cup leftover chicken, shredded
2 small (pickling) cucumbers cut on the diagonal into half-inch slices
1-3 fingerling chilis cut on the diagonal into ¼-inch slices (optional, if you like heat)
4 green onions cut on the diagonal into half-inch slices
3/4 cup micro greens
½ cup fresh cilantro (including the flavorful stems, chopped)
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. New Mexico chili pepper powder (mild)
1 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil**

Mix together the salt, chili powder, and black pepper in a large bowl. Add the shredded chicken and coat well with seasoning. Add cucumbers, chilis, green onions, and cilantro. Mix well. Add micro greens and sesame oil, toss gently once more, and divide evenly among two plates.

*written by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall
**Note from Joe: “Buy good sesame oil. I use Kadoya, which I buy at Park-to-Shop (Asian store). Good sesame oil is thick, and its soft, nutty, rich fragrance perfumes your kitchen.”

What’s for Breakfast?

I really love snow, and last weekend Northeast Ohio finally got its first real snowstorm of the year. As you might guess, I spent a lot of time last weekend shoveling snow, so I needed a breakfast that provided a lot of fuel. That’s what I want to talk about today. Breakfast. So what’s for breakfast? In a word? Protein. In two words? Nourishing fat. In three words? No stripped carbohydrates. I’m going to share some of my favorite ideas for breakfast, but first I’ll tell you about some of the ways I learned to nourish myself when I was younger and traveling. Continue reading

Just a Few Words About Knife Skills

Lately, I’ve been thinking about knife skills. Not just what they are, but why they are. If you take a cooking class, the chef starts by teaching knife skills, so clearly they are foundational to cooking. But why?

Chef Jim, where I work, taught me once that cutting foods into smaller pieces increases the amount of moisture available for tasting. Moisture serves as a vehicle to carry flavor molecules into your taste buds. The more moisture, the more flavor. And that explains the appeal of my dad’s chopped salad. He chops up lettuce, tomato, onion and other ingredients into very small pieces that markedly increase the amount of flavor (and mix of flavors!) released with every bite. And how does Chef Ira create that magic? With his knife. Continue reading

What Happens in December Stays in December

This month, a lot of people weigh more than they did in October. The problem is so widespread that, especially in people who are working to lose, I make it a point to applaud their efforts even if they have simply maintained their weight at the same number over the last few months. That’s because December is the time of year when people eat the most entertainment [read: sugar and white flour]. Continue reading

Laurel Gallucci’s Insanely Wonderful Chocolate Cake That Changed Everything

From time to time I post a dessert recipe, but it’s usually something tame, like apple slices. Just kidding. But seriously, I don’t post a lot of dessert recipes.

This recipe, on the other hand, breaks the mold. It is, by far, the most decadent thing I’ve ever posted on YHIOYP. Even if you never make it yourself, you have to appreciate the talent and passion of a woman who figured out how to make a cake like this. I thought it would be the perfect thing for anyone who is inspired to make something spectacular for the holidays. Continue reading

Black Stockings in Vegas

I presented two talks at a conference on Preventive Medicine in Las Vegas a couple of years ago, and awoke the first morning to discover that my black tights had not made it into the suitcase. This did not jive with my plans to present myself as a black-tights-wearing professional. Ugh. Shortly thereafter, at approximately 6 o’clock in the morning, I left my hotel room in search of a new pair of black tights. Continue reading