Are beans boring?

When we think about it, some of the world’s tastiest dishes are made with beans – Mexican re-fried beans stuffed into taco shells with loads of salad and salsa, creamy dahl with chapatti or rice, Tuscan white bean soup, delicately flavoured with herbs and olive oil, delicious falafel and humus, originating in the middle East, but now popular worldwide, deliciously sweet Japanese aduki bean and pumpkin stew. The list goes on!

The great thing about beans (we are talking here about the dozens of varieties of fresh or dried beans, as well as lentils, split peas and chickpeas) is that they are a healthy source of protein, are low in saturated fats and high in fibre, complex carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. They combine well with grains to form a plant-based source of complete protein. According to the study of Oriental medicine, beans support and nourish especially the kidneys, – they provide warming, consistent energy that can keep us going throughout the day. So it is good to eat some beans frequently, or even daily!

They are a staple food for peoples all around the world and have been for thousands of years – easy to grow, dry and store and beneficial for the soil by fixing nitrogen. As a primary food (one that is planted, grown, harvested and eaten) they are good for the planet being as many times more sustainable to produce than animal foods (secondary foods – ones where plants are grown, harvested and fed to livestock, to produce meat or dairy products.) Traditional cultures have figured out how to make beans tasty and digestible – it’s all in the cooking! (See tips below)

Tinned beans are fine to use when you are in a rush or need only a small amount, but the flavour does not compare to cooking beans from scratch, as you will find out if you give it a go! If you cook a pot of beans once or twice a week you will have a versatile and nourishing ingredient on hand to create some different meals: a soup, stew or a sautée, a bean dip, bean burgers with leftovers. They will keep well in the fridge for a couple of days and you can definitely freeze portions for later use. Never use beans that are old and may be turning – a recipe for digestive disaster!

Here are some tips for making successful beans:

1) Soak dried beans in cold water usually overnight

(Soaking time varies according to what type you are using – most need 8 hours , although chickpeas, which are very hard can be soaked a lot longer, whereas lentils and split peas can be much less)

2) Discard the soaking water and replace with fresh water to cook. Add enough water so that there is no chance of them burning and if you are boiling check the water level from time to time during cooking.

3) Add a small piece Kombu sea vegetable (1 to2”) to the beans at the start of cooking. The minerals from the kombu help to soften the skins of the beans and neutralize the acidic compounds found there, making them more digestible.

4) Cook for a sufficient amount of time  – until they become tender but still firm, preferably using a pressure cooker to reduce cooking time. Cooking time varies between varieties, but often about 45 minutes in a pressure cooker or 1-2 hours if boiling and simmering, although they will need less time if you will be cooking them on in a recipe. It is fine to use the juice of the cooked beans as well, lots of goodness there.

5) When cooked, season with sea salt, miso or shoyu (only to be added after the main cooking as salt can make it harder for the beans to soften if added during cooking.

6) Cook together with vegetables, some herbs or spices that suit your needs, tastes, and the climate where you live. Try lots of recipes and some will become your favourites. Create your own recipes! Check out our recipe section for some good bean recipes.

7) Try not to overeat, and chew well. Sometimes the recipes for beans are so delicious that one is tempted to eat large amounts! It is best to eat them in moderation as part of a balanced meal with some grain, vegetables and/or salad.

8) Make a habit of eating some live (homemade or unpasteurised) pickles or saukraut with your meal. This helps with digestion and absorption, making nutrients more bio-available.

Let us know how you get on!