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.


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


Roasted Sweet Potato Celebration

If you’re looking for something really beautiful to bring to your table any time this month, try this. The colors are warm and gorgeous, and they make a nice impression served in a large wide dish. The recipe works as a side dish as well as a main dish, especially if you add tofu. Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Slow And Steady Wins the Race (2 vegan, 1 turkey)

Now that the cold weather has moved in, I thought it would be nice to talk about slow oven cooking. As often happens when food cooks overnight in my oven, its extraordinary fragrance awakens me periodically throughout the night. You have to try it to believe it; the smell is amazing. It’s impossible to go wrong with slow oven cooking. The flavors caramelize and blend to become complex and satisfying. Although it is true that eating well takes more planning, it does not take more time. In the case of slow oven cooking, it actually takes less, and all these recipes can also be made in a crockpot set to low.  Continue reading


Sweet New Year Soup

Tonight, as the sun slips below the horizon, we will begin our celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. Traditional Rosh Hashanah foods tend toward the sweet and the circular: sweet for a sweet new year, and circular to represent the seasons that run one into the next, year after year, around and around. Instead of the usual braid, we even twist our challah (egg bread) into a round this time of year.  Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Two Parsley Salads For You

There is a warm and cozy spot in my heart where the parsley goes. Parsley doesn’t usually get people riled up in the same way as basil, thyme, and oregano, but that’s about to change! What’s great about these recipes is that parsley is not the garnish but the main event. It’s the green, the herb, the everything. No competition, no second fiddle. It’s not a decoration, it’s just the parsley, and it’s definitely meant to be eaten this way. Continue reading


Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (plus one glorious recipe!)

An article on the obesity epidemic once ran in our local paper with the headline “Eat, drink, and be sorry.” Eat, drink, and be SORRY? The actual quote reads, “Eat, drink, and be merry, so that joy will accompany him in his work all the days of his life.” And herein lies the problem. Continue reading



YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Karen’s Spiced Nuts

My friend and fellow yogi Karen Bush comes up with some of the very best recipes, and this one is guaranteed to make you very popular. You can bring it to a party, to book group, to work to share with your coworkers. You can sprinkle it on your salad and turn a little meal into a spectacular celebration. Guaranteed, everyone is going to love it. Continue reading


Most Manufactured Salad Dressing Isn’t Food

I recently decided that it was time to look at the ingredient lists of salad dressings, whatever that means, so I picked four popular brands to examine. You will be very interested to learn what I discovered. The first ingredient in the first product I picked up, Wishbone Italian dressing, was water. Frankly, that seems like a very expensive way to buy water. And surprising, too, given that Italian dressing consists primarily (and traditionally) of olive oil and vinegar. Not Wishbone Italian dressing, though. Continue reading