YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: 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. You already knew this! We’ve been teaching our children that beans are magic for hundreds of years at least; 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 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 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 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 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 peeled oranges, 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.

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