Lunch’n’learn: the beauty of beans
After covering lentils and chickpeas in the first part of the power pulses series, beans were the focus of today’s workshop.
A simple pot of beans
If I had to choose one symbol for the type of cuisine I stand for, a simple pot of beans quietly simmering in a fragrant broth on the back burner would likely be it. It’s a versatile, nourishing base that stands on its own or contributes in a myriad of ways — from creamy soups and dips to fresh, herby salads and hearty, chunky stews. More on that below, but first: get some beans soaking. Beans require an overnight soak to help them cook and make their nutrients more readily available to our bodies. Apparently cooking pulses in general concurrently with garlic and onion also helps mineral absorption.
After soaking, we want to cook the beans in a broth, rather than plain water — this transforms them from bland blobs into plump little packets of flavour. Of course, if you are in a hurry and don’t have broth, water will also work fine. If you’ve made your own veggie broth before, you can use that, or you can throw in half an onion, a few garlic cloves, some leek greens, a roughly chopped carrot, a bay leaf, parsley or thyme stalks… anything you have floating around that seems delicious to you. Finish with a good glug of olive or raps oil — important for flavour! There’s many debates out there whether or not to add salt; personally, I have cooked many a bean pot in salted broth and the beans have cooked perfectly. Maybe it takes a little longer, but the flavour is wonderful.
So, after you have soaked your beans, drain them, add to a pot and cover with pre-made broth or fresh water with the seasonings described above. Bring to a boil, skim off any foam that forms, reduce the heat and bring to a simmer. Cover and let cook very gently until the beans are very soft and taste amazing.
A lot of my inspiration and this advice comes from the lovely book “An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace” by Tamar Adler (short interview and link to Amazon here). There’s a wonderful description in there about cooking beans from scratch, which I have gone back to again and again. The whole book is beautifully written and gently guides the reader around the kitchen, building a closer, intuitive relationship to methods and ingredients. Check it out or let me know if you want to borrow it!
When your pot of beans is ready, you can use them right away or store them in the broth in the fridge or freezer. They still taste great after thawing the broth.
Beans soups and stews
Hearty bean soups and stews are an integral part of many cultures’ diets, so there is almost endless inspiration to be found from around the globe. Here are a few examples:
- Ribollita: the humble Italian stew made of tomatoes, white beans, kale and stale bread cooked to melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness. For me, one of the cosiest, most comforting dishes that I can make to soothe my soul on a blustery winter evening or sunny summer day. My version of the wonderful recipe in “An Everlasting Meal” is posted below.
- Hoppin’ Jon: a simple-sounding dish of beans and rice from the southern US, Terry Bryant’s vegan version in his book “Vegan Soul Kitchen” bursts with creole spices and deeply satisfying flavour.
- Creamy soups: like this velvety chanterelle soup from My New Roots. Puréeing some beans in soup is a great way to sneak in nutrients and reduce fat while retaining texture and flavour.
Beloved hummus is the most well-known of the legume condiments, but there are many bean variations worth exploring:
- White bean and artichoke spread: this has become my go-to spread when I need something very simple, quick and crowd-pleasing. Combine one can of white beans (or 250g cooked beans) with 1 jar of artichokes in oil (roughly the same drained weight), add a bit of the artichoke oil and a splash of lemon juice, salt and pepper. Some dried or fresh rosemary or oregano is also nice, if you have some around. Blend to a creamy consistency, and that’s it! It’s almost effortless and ready in 5 minutes but your guests will marvel at your culinary abilities 🙂
- Mung bean hummus: here is a simple version from 101 Cookbooks, but when I make it, I like to go the Asian-flavour route — a splash of soy sauce, some minced ginger, a drizzle of sesame oil and a spoon of miso paste…
- Cacao black bean dip: veering in the exotic and unusual flavour direction, this creamy cacao concoction actually works quite well, especially when served with some good-quality corn tortilla chips like the sweet potato version from Karma.
Bean burgers and patties
Last time we made some chickpea “cutlets” and today we talked about burger patties with beans as the base. Here are the essential components:
- base and structure: sturdy varieties like kidney and black beans work well
- texture: cooked grains such as rice or buckwheat, roughly crushed toasted seeds and nuts add a nice texture variation to the creamy base
- binding: seitan flour, ground flax seeds, psyllium husk, corn starch and chickpea flour all help with keeping your patty from disintegrating
- veggies: grating in some carrots, beetroot or finely chopped celery is a good way to boost nutrition and make for a moister patty
- fat: a bit of fat helps boost flavour and nutrition. Fats which are solid at room temperature such as refined coconut oil or the FÄT cacao butter granules available in Coop and Migros are a good choice, but a splash of olive or raps oil is also fine.
- flavour and seasoning: finely chopped onions and mashed garlic are always good, or use the powdered versions. Tomato paste adds a nice boost of flavour, as do nutritional yeast flakes or other yeast-based products like Cenovis. Your favourite spices like (smoked) paprika, cumin, coriander and chili are also welcome. And to brighten it all up, a bit of lemon zest and fresh herbs, when they are available, make the whole thing shine.
We briefly talked about the nutritional value of beans and pulses at the end of the workshop, and concretely about protein content. I looked up the values again, per 100g raw: chickpeas ~20g, white beans ~22g, lentils ~25g, white beans , soy beans ~35g. However, when the legumes are sprouted or cooked, the protein content is significantly reduced, by half or even a third. Question then is, how much protein do you need? The D.R.I. (daily recommended intake) in the United States is 0.8g per kg of body weight, which amounts to 50-75g for most sedentary adults. Those are some numbers, but I believe this is a complex question with no one straight-forward, right answer. Your weight, age, sex, activity, metabolism, etc all play a role, and the polarizing literature out there is more convoluted that clarifying. Therefore, I think an important aspect of eating healthy and “getting enough protein” is developing a certain sense of personal physical awareness and mindfulness, so that you learn to gently balance your body in good health.
My personal approach has been to make sure I regularly eat pulses in combination with other complementary grains like rice and wheat. I also eat a wide variety of other grains like buckwheat, nuts like walnuts and soy products such as tofu, tempeh or soy milk. Without driving myself crazy about it, I keep an eye on my diet and try to keep a varied balance of these things on regular rotation. This has kept me nourished and healthy for the past eight years following a plant-based diet.
Update: I’ve just noticed a nice summary on plant-based proteins and nutrition on the Pick-Up Limes blog, which includes more in-depth info, a sample day plan which demonstrates that it is easy to get the recommended DRI of protein from a plant-based diet, a printable PDF with the top plant-based protein sources, etc etc. Check it out!
A hearty Tuscan stew made with stale bread and simple ingredients like beans and tomatoes. This recipe is my vegan version of Tamar Adler’s recipe from the book “An Everlasting Meal”. Her recipe calls for Tuscany-quantities of good olive oil, which I’ve toned down here, but feel free to use more, especially in the depths of winter 🙂
Serves 3-4 as a main
- 2 celery stalks / 60g peeled celery root, diced
- 2 small carrots (~200g), diced
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 50ml olive oil
- 20g fresh parsley, chopped or 10g dried
- 10g fresh rosemary, chopped or 5g dried
a few fresh thyme stalks or some dried thyme
- 3 fresh tomatoes, chopped or one 400g tin
- 1/2 tsp chile flakes
- 250g Kale (weighed with stalks), leaves sliced, stalks chopped finely. I like Tuscany kale (Palmkohl in German) for this recipe.
- ~350g cooked beans
- 500ml stock from the cooked beans
- 2 cups stale bread, sliced into chunks
- ~150ml olive oil
- Heat some olive oil in a pot, add celery, carrots, leek and garlic and some salt, fry until soft
- Add the rosemary, thyme, half the parsley and chile flakes and stir fry for a few minutes
- Add the tomatoes and some water, bring to a boil then simmer until the veggies are soft
- Add the beans, bean stock, kale, bread and ~100 ml of olive oil, turn heat to very low, and simmer for ~20 mins
- Take off the heat, season to taste with salt, pepper, the rest of the parsley and more olive oil