Thursday, March 6, 2014

Bean Dishes- Vegetarian Cooking with Beans

Did you know that you could improve your health by eating less meat and eating more beans?  Some people are aware that beans are a good source of protein and fiber.  I don’t think most of us realize however, just how beneficial beans actually are. 

A few years ago, I decided to adopt a semi vegetarian diet.  What the heck does this mean and why did I come to this decision?  And what does this have to do with beans? 

Why I Decided to Eat a More Vegetarian Diet

So where did my journey to eating less meat start?  First thing that happened was the realization that I had progressively more problems from reflux when I ate meat and starches in the same meal.  Subsequently I saw former American Idol Ruben Studdard on a show where he talked about being a vegan, and learning to cook soul food and Southern comfort food without meat.  I became curious, and started researching recipes for meatless versions of things like burgers, meatloaf, chili, spaghetti, barbeque pork, fried chicken, and fried fish. 

I started thinking that some of these vegetarian and vegan recipes might help with my reflux.  It was really hard to feel satisfied with a meal that didn’t have meat and starch.  Maybe I could prepare a meatless entrée, have a vegetable and a starch side dish, and feel satisfied. 

Then I started stumbling on various articles and TV shows, where doctors and nutrition experts suggested embracing a diet that was 70% to 80% vegetarian.  Benefits were cited as beneficial in lowering saturated fats in the diet and having a positive impact on cholesterol, among other benefits. 

When I saw my naturopath, we agreed that I probably did not digest animal protein very well.  This is fairly common for those of us with underactive thyroid glands.  When you don’t digest protein well, you develop problems like low iron and low B12. 

5 Bean Chili 

So What About the Beans? 

So where do the beans fit into all of this?  Beans are the central ingredients of many of the burger recipes, and most of the meatloaf recipes.  I also found a couple great chili recipes where the star ingredients were beans.  Most of the “barbeque” recipes use tofu or tempeh, and the “fried” chicken and fish recipes use tofu. 

What do tofu and tempeh have to do with beans?  Both of these foods are made from soybeans.  I’m pretty fussy about food texture, and was really reluctant about tofu.  I was pleasantly surprised!  I tried barbequed tofu, and didn’t mind the texture at all.  I haven’t tried tempeh yet.  I’ll have to get back to you on that one. 

Southern Fried Tofu (Personal Photo)

The History of Beans

Archaeologists and historians have found evidence of the use of beans in the human diet at least as far back as 15,000 years ago.  Evidence exists that grains were rotated with beans for the benefit of the soil as early as 2000 B.C.  Beans absorb nitrogen from the air and infuse it into the soil. 

The Romans and Greeks used beans for voting for political candidates and determining the outcomes of trials.  White beans signified yes votes and innocence.  Black beans voted someone out of office or declared a suspect guilty. 

Beans have played an important place in the culture, and sometimes in the rituals of North, Central and South American natives. 

The consumption of beans as a side dish with meat, rather than a great source of protein in their own right, is a fairly new practice, occurring in Western cultures. 

Bean Basics

There are over 1000 varieties of beans.  In her book, Romancing the Bean, Joanne Saltzman categorizes beans according to cook time.  Joanne endorses dried beans and Eden Foods canned beans. 

Short-cooking beans include green lentils, mung beans and azuki beans.  Some beans in this category are split, known in Indian cooking as dal.  This would include red lentils and split peas. 

Beans that are medium- to short-cooking include azuki beans, black-eyed peas, and lima beans. 

Medium-cooking beans are the most common.  This group includes pinto beans, kidney beans, black turtle beans, navy beans, anasazi beans, cannellini beans, cranberry beans, Great Northern beans, and small red beans. 

Long-cooking beans include garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas), fava beans, soybeans, and tongue of fire beans. 

Nutritional Facts on Beans

Beans offer the richest source of protein in the plant world.  Proteins are made up of amino acid strings.  Half of the amino acids can be produced by the body by assimilating elements present in the body.  The other half of the aminos must come from food sources.  Meat, eggs, and milk are complete proteins.  A diet of beans and healthy grains also provides all the necessary amino acids. 

The vegetable proteins of beans are used more efficiently by the body than animal proteins, and do not contain saturated fats.  This can be crucial for individuals who need to reduce their cholesterol and triglycerides. 

What About Those Famous Digestive Issues

Many people are reluctant to eat beans because they don’t want to be caught in the possibility of having embarrassing gas in public.  Joanne attributes unpleasant digestive issues to not adequately cooking beans.  Beans have protease inhibitors, lectin, and cyanogen which protect the beans.  These compounds interfere with digestion, and can only be neutralized by cooking.  Romancing the Bean has extensive information about soaking and cooking beans. 

The other problem Joanne identifies is that well-prepared beans are so delicious that we tend to overeat them. 

Donna Gates, in her book, The Body Ecology Diet, notes that beans, grains, and seeds have a coating that makes them more difficult to digest, and suggests soaking them 8 to 24 hours, changing the soak water as necessary. 

Over the years I’ve heard various ways to reduce the gas producing properties of beans.  Suggestions include putting a little baking soda in the soak water, a little sugar in the cook water, or cooking with a piece of ginger. 

Giant White Limas with Potato Salad
Eat Beans and Save the Planet

In the book BeyondBeef, Jeremy Rifkin asserts that we could feed one billion more people if we used fields to “grow food rather than feed”.  He further states “Cattle are a major cause of world hunger, pollution, deforestation, and desertification.” 

A Sampling of Recipes from Romancing the Bean

In addition to great general information on beans, Romancing the Bean has many great recipes showcasing beans or soy products like tofu and tempeh.  Here are a few examples: 

Garbanzo Beans with Root Vegetables- Includes leeks, carrot, turnip, rutabaga, and garbanzo beans. 

Black Beans with Garlic and Cilantro- Includes the named ingredients, along with red wine. 

Curried Garbanzo Beans with Spinach- Garbanzos, spinach, coconut milk, and shallots. 

Frijoles Borrachos (Drunken Beans)- Pinto beans, beer, cumin, garlic, and onions. 

Black-Eyed Pea Patties- Peas, garlic, pretzel meal, and cilantro. 

Lentil Soup- Lentils, garlic, onions, carrots, parsnips, zucchini, fennel seed, tomato paste, and elbow macaroni. 

Tempeh Stroganoff- Tempeh, mushrooms, umeboshi vinegar, onions, rice milk, and cashews. 

Frozen Tofu Baked in Barbecue Sauce- Tofu and barbecue sauce. 

Savory Tofu Pot Pie- tofu, green onions, carrots, potatoes, corn, green peas, and puff pastry. 

 BBQ Tofu

Other Ideas for Bean Meals

Any favorite beans, such as pinto beans, black-eyed peas, or lima beans, served with potato salad and cornbread. 

See my previous blog posts on: 

Blue Plate Diner Bean Burger

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