I absolutely adore beans and I eat them every day! In my not so humble opinion, they are one of the most perfect foods on Earth. Beans are packed with nutrients including; calcium, iron and potassium. They are a great source of protein, complex carbohydrates and they are high in soluble fiber. Beans are very filling and can be eaten along with any meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner. They are very versatile. Some varieties can be eaten raw, they can be sprouted, ground into flour, they can be fermented to make products such as miso, tempeh and soy sauce, they can be boiled, baked or fried. There are thousands of varietes of beans and they come in a gorgeous array of colors with distinctive flavors. Dried beans store well in the pantry and remain viable for several years. Beans are easy to grow and are a good source of nitrogen for the soil. And finally, dried beans as well as canned beans are very affordable.
But wait! There’s more! Because what beans don’t have, is just as great as what they do have. Beans have only a tiny amount of fat (with virtually zero saturated fat) and they have no cholesterol.
It’s sad that today, while beans are starting to make a come-back, they still tend to have a bad reputation. As I understand it, there are a few reasons for this. By many people, beans are considered “peasant food”, something that only poor people eat because they can’t afford meat. Beans are a hassle and take way too long to cook. Beans make you fat! Beans are for chili, many people have no idea what else to do with them and so tend to ignore them. And lastly, beans make us fart!
Ok, let me talk a bit about these things. First of all, beans have been around for a very long time, they were actually one of man’s first cultivated crops being planted in some of the very first civilizations, when man discovered agricultural techniques and first began to till the Earth. Beans, along with grains, have been a staple for nearly every civilization around the world. I believe that the idea that beans are “peasant food” probably originated when those who were wealthier and owned land make laws forbidding the commoners from hunting on his land, he collected taxes in the form of money, food or whatever else the people had to give, thus keeping them oppressed and reliant on their crops. In a way though, the commoners did have a revenge of sorts on these wealthy rulers, because the rulers tended to live a life of great excess which inevitably made the unhealthy and caused them to suffer and die from diseases that were specifically related to their overly rich and indulgant diets and lifestyles. So, when you get right down to it, it doesn’t really matter if beans are eaten mainly by the “poor” or not, they are one of the healthiest things you can eat.
Many people think that beans are a hassle and are too time consuming to make. This is just not true anymore! I cook my beans in a pressure cooker, I don’t even need to soak them before hand. They are done in 20-45 minutes depending on the variety. I always cook extra so that I can freeze them for future use and this also saves a great deal of time. Some people like to cook their beans slowly in a crock pot throughout the day. They soak them over night and then just dump them in the crock pot with water and forget about them until they are ready in the evening. Smaller beans can be soaked for just a few hours and then cooked on the stove top at a gentle simmer and will be ready in 1 hour. But if you really just don’t have the time for dried beans, use canned. They are just as nutritious but have the advantage of already being cooked, just open the can and you’re ready to go.
Beans do not make you fat, unless you consume them in excess, just like any other food. As I mentioned, beans are very low in fat and high in fiber, which is a great combination. Many people consider that chicken is one of the best low fat, low calorie foods that a person can eat. 8 oz. of skinless chicken breast has; 249 calories, 2.8g of fat, 131g cholesterol 52g of protein and zero fiber. An equal portion of beans, in this case 8 oz. of fava beans has; 170 calories 0.9g of fat, zero cholesterol, 13.1g of protein, and 8.4g of fiber. The beans are just as filling as the chicken and are a whole lot better for you. Beans are NOT fattening!
And finally a few words on gas…
Yes, I know it can be embarrassing, like when you’re right in the middle of giving that big presentation at work, or having an intimate moment with your new love. Many people shy away from beans just because of the overly-exaggerated hype surrounding them, most people usually don’t have as bad a problem with them as they thought they might, once they actually give them a try. But trust me, there are things that you can do to help eliminate this problem.
Why do beans cause gas? Gas is caused by the complex sugars found in beans, but not only beans, they are also found in many other foods such as those found in the brassica family; cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, etc. They are called oligosaccharides. So, what can you do about it? First of all, you can eat more beans! Make them a regular part of your diet even if you begin with small portions and build up from there. It has been observed that people who live in countries where beans are a main staple, don’t tend to have this problem. It’s a matter of our bodies not knowing how to deal with the sugars. But the body over time usually develops the ability to deal with them. What else can you do?
Soak your beans. As the beans soak overnight, many of the complex sugars leach out into the water, make sure that you drain off the soaking water and rinse a few times before adding fresh water for cooking. For canned beans, just make sure to rinse them a few times before you use them.
And don’t forget, there is always Beano. It can help to prevent those embarrassing little moments. Beano is a natural enzyme that breaks down the complex sugars for you, making the beans more digestible. I wouldn’t recommend using it all the time, but if you have something coming up and you’d like to rest assured that your beans won’t do the talking for you, go ahead and use it. The reason I don’t recommend using Beano all the time is that the less you use it, the quicker your body becomes accustomed to breaking down the sugars by itself, then you won’t need Beano at all.
But please don’t let something like a touch of gas cause you to avoid beans, they are one of the most healthy, versatile foods on Earth :O)
I will be posting some of my most favorite bean recipes during the coming week. I hope you will give them a try! Here is the first.
White Bean Soup with Smoky Chipolte Broth
This soup is remarkable in its simplicity, it’s become one of our favorite comfort foods this winter. I wish I could take the credit for creating it. I found this recipe on one of my favorite food blog sites, it’s called “101 Cookbooks” by Heidi Swanson. Heidi is a fantastic whole foods chef, nearly all of her recipes are vegetarian and many of them are vegan. Anyway, I have changed the recipe just a tad but you can see the original recipe here
I highly recommend wandering around Heidi’s site, it’s one of my favorite places!
The main changes that I’ve made to the original recipe is that I use small dried white beans instead of lima beans (we don’t have lima beans in Germany). Chipoltes are actually smoked jalapenos packed in an amazingly smokey sauce. In the U.S. you can find chipoltes (“Chipolte Peppers in Adobo Sauce”) in the mexican/ethnic food section of most grocery stores. We don’t have these here in Germany but I managed to find a hot pepper seller (the Pepper King) on the German Ebay! Ok, here is the recipe.
White Bean Soup with Smoky Chipolte Broth
- 1lb small dried white beans
- 10 cups water
- 1 head garlic
- 2 TBLS olive oil
- 1 onion
- 1-2 chipoltes in adobo sauce
- 2 tsp. of adobo sauce
- 2 tsp. sea salt
- juice from a lemon or lime
First pick through your beans to make sure there are no pebbles. I soak my beans for about 4 hours prior to cooking but you can skip this part if you want to. Make sure that you find the smallest dried white beans that you can, they will cook faster that way. Put your prepared beans in a large pot and add 10 cups of water. Cut the top off of the head of garlic to expose the cloves and remove all of the loose skin, rinse well to help remove any remaining debris, then add to the pot, make sure it is floating with the opened cloves side down. If you have never cooked with an entire head of garlic before you might think that this is way too much garlic, but don’t worry. The garlic, since it is being left as whole cloves, tends to really mellow and sweeten as it cooks, it is not overpowering in the least. Bring the beans to a simmer and reduce the heat leaving them to simmer gently until tender but not over-cooked, you don’t want mushy beans. This generally takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes. I think the cooking time really depends on your beans (smaller, fresher dried beans cook faster than older beans or larger beans ). Keep cooking until they are tender, however long this takes.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat, add your onions, chopped chipoltes and 2 tsp. of the adobo sauce. Saute until onions are translucent and softening.
Dump the onions into the bean pot, add the salt and stir through. This soup is meant to be thin so add more water if needed since some of it cooked away. Taste the broth and adjust your seasonings. You can add more of the adobe sauce if you want a spicier soup, add more salt if needed. Cook gently for about 5 minutes so flavors mingle and do a final taste test. Finish off by squeezing the juice of a lime or small lemon into the soup. You can remove the head of garlic at this point, or just serve around it.
Tip: you will end up with quite a bit of chipolte and sauce left over, no problem. I empty my can into a small plastic container and put it into the refrigerator. It keeps for months and months. I use is in all kinds of dishes, anywhere where I want a bit of fire and a smoky flavor.