All About Beans PLUS Recipes

Many years ago, my then-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 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 wish I could find that recipe again. Chickpeas, like peanuts, are yet another type of bean.

Beans are the only food in the universe that are high in both protein and fiber, and that makes them delicious, nutritious, and satisfying, not to mention magical. We teach our children that beans are magic; every culture has its own version of the “Jack & the Beanstalk” story. 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 very 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,” and (my favorite) “The more colors on your plate, the better.” That’s the same as “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. We 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. Now it looks like it 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. Beans can be grown, soaked, sprouted, slow-cooked, and dried. 

I collected a few bean pot recipes here for you to try. They all have the same approach: Collect a bunch of ingredients, throw them into a covered pot, and cook them over low heat for a pretty 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 as well, 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 teaspoon 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 300 degree 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 t. salt

4-5 c. water

4 whole raw eggs, still in the shell

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 200 degrees after a 2-3 hours. Check it a few times to make sure there is enough water just to cover the beans. The eggs absorb flavor across the shell and 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 t. 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 350 for 3 hours, and then 250 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 oranges, peeled and chopped into small pieces

1/2 t. red pepper flakes

3 tbsp. molasses

1 t. 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 200 degrees after a 2-3 hours.

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: If You’ve Never Made Charoset…

I’ll be whipping up a second batch of this truly extraordinary charoset (kha-ROE-set) for dinner tomorrow night. In addition to the good old-fashioned, European-style, apples-and-walnuts charoset I make every year, I’ve been rotating through a series of Middle Eastern-style, dried-fruit charoset recipes every year for at least a couple of decades. But I never found one I liked enough to make it again until this year, when I served a bowl of this charoset, which was passed around and around the table until it had been almost emptied!

Re: that European charoset, I want you to know that my mom and my Grandma Rosie actually taught me to make it in a wooden chopping bowl (so many special memories) that still holds a place of honor in my parents’ house. Things go much faster now with my food processor, though I always process each ingredient separately almost to the desired consistency, and then add them all back together for a couple of final spins. Otherwise you are likely to get fruit spread, which is a different recipe entirely.

One note: Instead of cayenne pepper I used some ground smoked Serrano chili pepper that I got in Napa last fall. Feel free to be creative with whatever kind of heat you can find in your cabinet. Remember that freshness is more important than the particular source.

2/3 cup whole almonds with skin, toasted and cooled
2/3 cup pistachios, shelled
1 cup dried apricots, coarsely chopped (5 ounces)
2/3 cup pitted dried dates, coarsely chopped
1 (3- by 1/2-inch) strip orange zest, finely chopped (approx. 1 tsp.)
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne

Toast the almonds in a cast iron pan or a cookie sheet in the oven, shaking often, especially as you see the color begin to darken. Do not allow them to burn or you will have to start over.

Rinse the pistachios to remove most of the salt, and spread on a towel to absorb most of the water.

Add apricots and orange zest to food processor and pulse until well chopped. Remove apricots, and do the same with the dates. Remove dates from processor.

Add almonds to food processor and pulse a few times until the nuts break apart. Add pistachios and spices, and continue to pulse until the two different types of nuts are well mixed but still (barely) distinguishable. Return apricots and dates to the bowl, and pulse until all is well mixed, but still chewy and a little bit crunchy.

Spoon this onto matzah, or chicken, or fish, or eat it off the spoon. Enjoy!


Let the Growing Season Begin!

The first time I joined a community-supported agriculture (CSA), almost ten years ago, its kickoff late on a Thursday afternoon sent me racing out of the office at the end of the day. The first week’s bounty included lettuce greens, herbs, onions, kohlrabi, radishes. Adults chatted and children hopped around like happy rabbits as we waited for strawberries to arrive. After a long winter, we all hungered for fresh food. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Huevos Haminados (Slow-roasted Eggs)

Haminados are one of my all-time favorite Passover recipes! Simple, sublime and delicious, they have been a staple at the Passover tables of Mediterranean Jewish communities for millennia! Check out this recipe and you’ll see why. Whether you make this dish in your crockpot or oven, it takes just a few minutes to toss it together and get it cooking. Continue reading

Potatoes, Horseradish, and Other Gifts

Some years ago, when winter was coming to an end and spring was still soggy and cold, I discovered a lone organic potato in my kitchen. I have to specify that it was organic because conventionally grown potatoes are much less likely to root and generate offspring. This sad little potato was dried out, wrinkly, and way past edible. At least six little rootlets were beginning to form on the skin, and so I decided to try an experiment. I cut that little potato into six chunks, each containing a single rootlet. I dug a trench in the garden on the far side of our backyard, and dropped each of the pieces into the trench, about 1 foot apart. Then I covered them with dirt and waited. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Chickpeas & Posole

If you have never heard of posole, you are in for a seriously delicious treat. Posole is the same as hominy, kernels of corn that have been soaked in limewater, then hulled and dried. These are whole, not like the ones that are crushed for making grits. You can get some extraordinarily good posole from Rancho Gordo in Napa, or from a Mexican grocery, or from most anywhere that beans, nuts, seeds and grains are sold in bulk. Americans eat loads of grain, including corn, but not like this. Posole is the real deal. Continue reading

Be Here Now

“Be here now” is what Thich Nhat Hanh says. I think about that sentence a lot. It grounds me in the present and keeps me here, no matter what I’m doing, No matter when and where I’m doing it. Not there, not then, but here and now. For a long time I thought of “Be Here Now” as “be HERE now.” Sometimes “be here NOW.” But last week, for the first time, I heard myself think “BE here now.” Notice: Thich Nhat Hanh said BE here now, not DO here now. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Red Cabbage Salad With A Buzz

It’s a red-green party, lunch for a week with spicy, crunchy, sour power! Make some for you, or your gang, or your office potluck! When I saw this recipe I knew it was for me. Generally speaking, cabbage is one of those foods that is very underrated — especially the red kind. Continue reading

The Commodity Compromise

In life, one always has to choose between quantity and quality. If your goal is to obtain an item of the highest possible quality, then it doesn’t matter how much you get. Like a sample of uranium. When it’s quality you’re after, it doesn’t matter whether you end up with a microgram or a kilogram. The issue of its purity is not negotiable, so the amount is secondary. But when it’s quantity you seek, it doesn’t matter whether the end result is purity or perfidy, perfect or problematic. Continue reading

YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Slow Chicken & White Beans

In honor of the upcoming marriage of HLJ to ESS:
Here’s a magnificent recipe, inspired by the fact that this year is the #Year of the #Pulse! You know how much I love beans and the flavors developed by slow cooking! Try putting it up right now, and you’ll have a very special, delicious and nutritious meal for dinner tonight. Of course, if you’re me, you might decide to make it tonight instead of in the morning, so it will be ready just in time for breakfast tomorrow.
Whenever food cooks in our slow cooker through the night, it gives me delicious dreams. Sometimes it even wakes me up, a few times for a few moments, to savor the smells. Then, when morning comes, I can barely get myself up and dressed fast enough in my hurry to get downstairs to eat my yummy breakfast from the crockpot! I’m not kidding — consider yourself forewarned.

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