"Where do vegetarians get
their protein?" "Will I get enough protein if I give up meat?" Well, I am
here to tell you that in all the years I have been vegetarian, I have
never met a protein-deficient person - ever.
The truth is, all grains, vegetables, nuts,
seeds and, yes, beans, contain protein. The best news is that all of those
are vegetable-quality proteins, which means that we can assimilate it
easily and utilize it completely. In our fragmented, vitamin-obsessed
thinking, we have lost sight of the fact that we do not require as much
protein to satisfy our bodies' needs as we have been led to believe by
clever marketing. In traditional cuisines, protein-rich foods, like animal
food or even beans, were used in small amounts, composing less than 10
percent of daily intake - this was not because of concern about protein
overconsumption, but rather due to availability. These foods were added to
the diet for richness and for the energy they provide naturally. People
labored physically harder than we do today and required the kind of
stamina that went along with their work. But the people of these cultures
knew instinctively that only small amounts of these foods were required to
obtain the desired effects. It is only in our modern culture that we have
centered our daily diet around protein-rich animal foods, so much so that
when we consider eliminating animal protein from our diet, we become
fearful of protein deficiency and loss of strength.
Beans have been cultivated around the world since ancient times. It seems
that, along with vegetables, they have always been served as a traditional
complement to whole cereal grains. For example, in South and Central
America, cooked beans wrapped in corn tortillas were a dietary staple. In
India, dahl, a thick sauce made from dried peas or lentils, was served
with rice or chapatis. Far Eastern cuisine traditionally pairs whole grain
rice with azuki, soy or mung beans. In Africa, chickpeas and black-eyed
peas are served as accompaniments with couscous or cracked wheat. And in
Europe, broad beans and lentils are the natural companions of barley,
farro and rice.
Modern culture has turned its back on most traditional cuisines in favor
of convenient, quick foods. The result has been that we, as a species,
have become weaker and have more difficulty digesting food, especially
whole foods. This is manifested by the great number of people who have
difficulty assimilating whole beans and bean products. We need to
understand that animal foods and dairy foods are very taxing to our
digestive tract, leaving it weak, overworked and in some cases, flaccid.
This results in the tract's loss of ability to contract and push food
through. So sometimes the change to a whole foods diet can result in
digestive trouble, especially when those whole foods are beans.
What is the best way to handle this problem of digesting beans? Do we just
grin and bear it until we become a bit stronger? Do we eliminate beans
from our diet? (A grim thought.) Or are there ways of preparing beans to
make them easier on our digestive systems, while still preserving the
benefits of these nutrient-rich foods? Of course there are. We'll get to
Importance of Beans
in the Diet
Why eat beans in the first place? Beans and bean products are
proportionately higher in fat and protein than whole cereal grains and
lower in carbohydrates. Combined with grains, beans make a complete
protein, providing all of the amino acids needed by the body to function
properly. Beans are also quite high in nutrients like calcium, phosphorus,
iron, niacin, thiamin and vitamin E. While relatively low in vitamin A,
legumes contain phosphatides, which increase our absorption of
beta-carotene (the precursor to vitamin A found in yellow and orange
vegetables and considered a strong anticancer factor), making vegetable
and bean combinations an ideal food.
Beans are completely cholesterol free and contain only unsaturated fat.
Also high in minerals, recent studies have shown that a diet including
beans and bean products, particularly soyfoods, greatly reduces
arteriosclerotic lesions and high cholesterol levels. European doctors
have reported that patients eating a diet rich in soyfoods significantly
reduced the risk of heart disease. Arid tempeh, which contains the
microorganism bacillus subtilis, has strong antibiotic effects as well.
Beans and bean products have another benefit as well: They provide slow,
steady energy - fuel, if you will - by releasing nutrients slowly into the
bloodstream. The result is that the quality of the blood is strengthened,
as well as the lymph and other body fluids. Remember that the blood
nourishes every organ and organ system in the body; so if blood quality is
good and strong, it only follows that the body will be strong, too.
So if the only bad news about beans is digestibility, then we'll just have
to get you over that one, because these are valuable nutrients that you
just can't pass up.
and Storing Beans
Before we talk about cooking beans, let's consider which characteristics
we should look for when buying them. Quality is important, and since beans
are often rotated with other crops, it is important to consider the
quality of the growing soil. In my opinion, organic beans are always the
best choice; they are not grown in chemically depleted soil and thus give
us more strength and nutrients, particularly minerals, drawn from the
After harvest, beans are cleaned, dried and packaged. Good processing
loses only about 10 percent to damage. Once at the market, you should look
for beans that arc well formed, uniform in size and shape, smooth skinned,
full-bodied and shiny. Any deformities like spots, wrinkles, flecks,
cracks and pits mean that the beans have lost their vitality. And if you
don't believe me, take a cracked or broken bean and try to sprout it. It
will not grow; no life force exists. Dried beans should also be hard,
shattering when bitten into. If the beans only dent, they have not been
properly dried and will not yield a hearty taste.
After purchase, store beans in tightly sealed glass jars arid keep in a
cool, dry place like a pantry. Preserved and stored in this manner, beans
will retain their vitality for many years. Different varieties of beans
should be stored separately from one another. As with grains, I also like
to keep a bay leaf in each jar of beans to ensure freshness.
So what are the best types of beans to purchase for regular use?
Generally, I like to choose smaller beans that are lower in fat for daily
use, occasionally supplementing with larger, broader beans. As an
additional supplement, I use bean products like tofu and tempeh.
Okay, so now you've made the decision to include more beans and bean
products in your diet.You've gone out and bought a variety of beans and
stocked your pantry. So now what? Well, here are some of the most common
methods for cooking beans for the best flavor and digestibility.
Before cooking beans, quickly sort through them to remove any visible
stones or damaged beans. (Don't get crazy with this, just a quick sort to
remove debris.) Then gently rinse the beans in a colander to remove any
I used to soak beans before cooking. I don't anymore ... or if I do, it is
only for an hour. Let me tell you a story. I was cooking for one of our
tour groups (my husband and I run a small travel company that hosts
healthy vacations) in a small inn in central Tuscany. We had taken over
the entire agriturismo and one of the perks was that we had the
professional kitchen all to ourselves. The regular cook was an elderly
Italian woman who checked in on me daily to be sure I was riot destroying
her kitchen (as I would do, to be frank ... ). One morning, she came in as
I was draining the soaking water from chickpeas. She asked me what I was
doing. When I explained that I had soaked the beans for several hours
before cooking, she asked if I liked my guests ... because I was going to
give them bad digestion by soaking beans. I told her that soaking also
shortened cooking time. She smiled, called me stupida in an
affectionate way and suggested that we cook beans together with identical
recipes and see the outcome. To make a long story short, her beans had a
richer taste and no one became "musical" after eating them. I thought
about it and realized that soaking caused the beans to lose flavor and
enzymes, arid the cooking time between the two recipes varied only by a
few minutes. I have not soaked a bean since. However, if you just can't
break the habit, try soaking for only an hour. Life just became so much
easier, didn't it?
When ready to cook the beans, discard the soaking water (if you are still
soaking) and begin the cooking process with fresh water. Next, take a
deep, heavy pot and place a one- inch piece of kombu or one bay leaf per
cup of beans on the bottom. This small piece of sea vegetable or bay leaf
mineralizes and softens the beans, rendering the fat and protein more
digestible (both are rich sources of monosodium glutamic acid, a natural
"tenderizer"). Add the beans and water and bring the pot to a rolling
boil. The last step in making beans most digestible is to allow the beans
to boil rapidly for five to seven minutes before covering and cooking over
low heat until done. This final precaution helps cook away any remaining
"gas" from the beans.
Following these simple steps prior to cooking beans can really help
alleviate the digestive problems commonly associated with them. The last
step in your insurance policy comes when the beans are fully prepared.
Chew them very well. That exercise is the very best advice I can give you
for bean eating. Saliva secreted during chewing is the best aid to
So, now, what are the best cooking methods for beans? Well, in order for
beans to thoroughly cook inside and out, it is best to cook beans for as
long as possible over low heat. There is a wide variety of seasonings,
including miso, soy sauce, sea salt, mirin, wine, barley malt and
sometimes a bit of oil, depending on what taste you want in the final
dish. Sometimes I add vegetables at the beginning of cooking to create a
creamy stew; other times I add the vegetables toward the end of cooking so
that each retains its own character and holds its shape. Or I may use
dried vegetables in a bean stew. Finally I frequently serve bean dishes
garnished with something a bit spicy or hot, such as grated daikon, fresh
ginger or horseradish or diced green onions or chives. Many times 1 will
separately saute a variety of vegetables, possibly with cumin or other
spice, and stir them into completely cooked beans for yet another type of
bean dish. So, you see, preparing beans is still another area of
creativity in the kitchen.
Some of the more common methods for cooking whole beans properly include:
Shocking, a traditional method for cooking beans, conies to us from Asia.
Place rinsed beans in a heavy, cast-iron pot with 2 1/2 cups of water for
each 1 cup of beans. Cook the beans over low heat, uncovered, until they
boil. After a few minutes at a boil, set a drop lid (a lid that sets
loosely inside the pot) inside the pot on top of the beans. After the
beans are covered, the water will return to a strong boil, causing the
cover to jiggle. Remove the lid and add cold water down the side of the
pot until the boiling stops, then replace the lid. Repeat the process each
time the beans return to a boil until they are about 80 percent cooked
when tasted for tenderness. At that point, remove the lid, add any desired
vegetables and allow the beans to cook over medium heat until both are
tender. Season to taste and simmer away any remaining liquid. This method
brings out the natural sweet taste of beans, giving you perfectly tender
and delicious beans every time.
Add 3 to 3 1/2 cups water to 1 cup rinsed beans. After bringing beans to a
boil, cover them arid cook over low heat until tender. Season and continue
cooking until completely done.
The fastest method for cooking beans is to pressure-cook them. This method
is a great time-saver and gives large amounts of energy to the dish. The
water ratio remains the same, as does the use of kombu or bay leaf.
If cooking beans simply cannot tit into your busy schedule, there are
canned organic beans now available in most natural food stores. Granted,
they won't be quite as delicious as beans cooked from scratch, but in a
pinch, they do quite nicely. Before use, rinse the beans free of the
liquid in the can, as this fluid can give the beans a stale taste. Any
whole-bean recipe here can be made with canned beans; simply eliminate the
bean-cooking steps in the cooking process.
Cooking the Whole Foods Way
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