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.


Thanksgiving Gratitude

Many years ago, when I was eleven years old, my parents bought a Corning Cooktop stove, a fancy new appliance whose coils remained white when they were hot. You just had to take it on faith — or not. No matter how long I stared at that new stovetop, I could not convince myself that the white coils were hot. And that is why I still remember clearly, so many years later, the perfectly oval burn on the tip of my right index finger. I only touched it once, but that was all it took. I couldn’t take anyone else’s word for it. I needed to see for myself. Continue reading



The Box-of-Real-Food Diet

I write Your Health is On Your Plate because there are a couple of things that I want everyone to really understand. First, I want you to understand that there’s a big difference between real food and manufactured calories. A huge difference, really. Real food nourishes; manufactured calories entertain (at best). Manufactured calories also cause a lot of very serious medical problems. Like diabetes and obesity, for starters. And strokes and heart attacks. Continue reading


Ten Steps to Preventing Diabetes

Let’s say that you’re not diabetic and, of course, you want to keep it that way. But you have a couple of family members with diabetes, and you’re wondering if it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen to you, too. Not necessarily. Here are some things you can do to dramatically reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes. Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: Lovely, Lovely Legumes

Many years ago, my then-vegetarian sister had a boyfriend whose mother served her “bean loaf” on her first visit to their home. Its dreadful and unappetizing name was nothing like its fabulous flavor. So we renamed it “chickpea pie,” and it ended up sticking around for much longer than the vegetarianism. And the boyfriend. Continue reading


YOUR HEALTHY PLATE: The Barefoot Gypsy’s Tabouli

Here is an absolutely fantastic recipe for tabouli from my lucky friend Judith, who got it from her mom, who got it from her mom, who got it from her mom, and so on, which is why my friend Judith is so lucky. Pick up what you need next time you go shopping, so you can make it in time for next weekend’s celebrations!  Continue reading