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More Beans!

More Beans!
Diversity in dry common beans

A variety of beans. Image via Wikipedia

Do you eat beans much? Here are some ways to work them into your meals more, while minimizing their famous side-effect of flatulence. We’re talking here about dried beans such as garbanzos, black beans, pinto beans, and dozens of other varieties. Split peas and lentils, while not technically beans, are related legumes with similar qualities.

First, why would you want to eat more beans? Here are four reasons:

  1. Beans can be really delicious when cooked properly. They need to be thoroughly cooked to be most easily digested. They lend themselves to all manner of combinations with other foods, such as rice. In much of Latin America, beans and rice are eaten together daily, prepared in an imaginative variety of ways.
  2. Beans are nutritious, providing protein, fiber, complex carbohydrates, calcium, B vitamins, and more. What they don’t have much of is fat, at about 3%, so they are great for low-fat diets.
  3. Beans are economical, being one of the most inexpensive ways to get your protein. A one-pound bag of beans will provide you with quite a few meals and cost less than any meat per serving. You can store beans for years and they will keep virtually all of their nutritional benefits.
  4. Beans are a more eco-friendly choice than meat. The feeding, transporting, slaughtering, and refrigerating of meat are extremely energy intensive. Beans are just another plant crop.

How to cook and eat beans at home

Here is how we do it. In the evening, choose from your supply of beans the ones you want to cook. You can mix different kinds, with the exception of soybeans which require longer cooking and some special handling. Pour about a cup of beans onto a flat surface like a plate or cookie sheet. Spread them out, and examine them under good light for any little pebbles or other debris that might be mixed in. With modern processing methods, you probably won’t find anything, but it’s worth doing just in case. If you wish, at this stage, you can pick out the beans that are broken, as they will provide less nutrition than the intact ones.

Rinse the beans and soak them overnight with about three times as much water as beans. I use a quart canning jar for this step.

In the morning, pour out the water and rinse the beans. Then put them on to simmer with plenty of water. I have a one-quart slow cooker that I use for this step. Keep the water temperature at simmering rather than at a rolling boil, for softer beans in the end. If you don’t have a small crock pot, you can do this on the stove top.

The beans will be done in a few hours. Pour them and the cooking liquid through the strainer again; getting rid of the liquid helps keep the flatulence factor down. Other things you can do in this regard include using a strongly-flavored herb called epazote in cooking, eating a bit of an enzyme called Beano right before you eat, and gradually increasing the amount of beans you eat over several weeks.

Store your cooked beans in your refrigerator in a glass jar. Add them to salads, soups, stir-fries, and more, or you can heat some up with tortillas and salsa for a delicious lunch.

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