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March 16, 2011

Bean There, Done What?

Today I will deviate from my Big Meltdown mini series to continue with another one I started this January. Back than I highlighted barley as an ingredient/product of the month and then in February beets stepped up into the spot light. March is already half way through and I better pick an ingredient! So I decided to muse upon beans. Looks like I'm going in almost alphabetical order, but trust me, it's not intentional.

My relationship with beans begun rather slowly. As a child, the only kind of beans I ever knew were red kidney beans. We ate beans rather scarcely for no particular reason. Sometimes sautéed with onions, sometimes in salads, where it would be a second or even third ingredient, and almost never as a separate side or main dish.

If I only knew then what I know about beans now.

Over the years since I turned my interest to nutritional values of different food I have been amazed with beans and their potential. First of all it is packed with protein—plant protein—which is a catalyst of our metabolic process. Secondly, unlike other protein rich food beans contain no fat calories and are low in sodium, naturally.
Three basic nutritional staples are tightly packed in each little seed: protein, complex carbohydrates and fiber. In addition, beans contain important vitamins and minerals such as folate, vitamin B1, potassium, calcium, iron among others.
These multitaskers can do so much for you. While health benefits may vary from one kind to another, they have some commonality. Following regiment rich in beans may prevent such conditions as high blood pressure due to potassium content, type 2 diabetes, obesity because fiber in beans helps curb your appetite, high LDL cholesterol levels and even some cancers due to antioxidants that are in some varieties such as black beans.
There isn't a cuisine in the world that doesn't have a dish or two with beans. Growing well in many areas of the world, beans have also been cultivated by humans for ages. Found wild in nature fist, they appeal to human taste buds, I'm guessing, right away.

In my case, however, it wasn't love at first bite. I mean I used to eat beans in salads and mixed in with something else, but not dishes where beans are star ingredient. After learning more about this wonderful nature's diet pill, I ventured to add more beans to my regimen. So I started buying canned beans.
I understand, that the fact that they are canned may not significantly lower their potential and using canned beans can cut prep time tremendously, it is only when I started to cook with dry beans I really liked them. Perhaps for me it was the 'texture' issue, but I still believe it's worth the effort to cook with dry beans rather then canned.
Now, I can honestly declare beans one of my top favorite ingredients. With so many varieties that are different in color, shape, size, texture and taste anyone can find his favorite little seed. I haven't come across a bean I didn't like, yet!

To profess my love to beans further, I started to grow them in my garden collecting a plentiful harvest from late June to early September for three years now. First green beans, then some dry ones, too. I'm looking forward to this year's gardening season!

When cooking with dry beans you need to soak them previously. There are two basic ways to do so: 1) overnight in cold water; 2) for at least 2 hours in boiling water. I must confess, I never soaked beans in boiling water and can't tell you how it works. I use overnight soaking method: empty out 16 oz package of dry beans in a pot big enough to fit about 2 QT of cold water to cover beans; leave overnight. Now before you ready to cook the beans, there's one important step you must undertake: drain and rinse the beans well. The element that makes eating beans a gastrointestinal revolution is now in the water that they have been soaking in. That's why you need to drain, rinse well and cook them in fresh water, thus reducing the impact of that revolution.
Cook beans in slightly salted water until they are soft all the way through: break a single bean and make sure the inside is all translucent. Depending on the kind of bean it could take from 30 to 50 minutes. Undercooked beans contain toxic element {I googled for its name and here it is: Phytohaemagglutinin. I dare you read it out loud!} and can give us moderate or even severe discomfort. Try not to overcook them, either. However, if you do, don't get upset—you can always mush them into a tasty side dish.
And last, but not least bean benefit is that they are dirt cheap! Just scratch the dirt part!

March is almost over and fresh seasonal produce is still scarce around here. But we need vitamins, so adding beans to your diet would be a great option.

Today I'm sharing a simple salad yet again. I made it with cooked lima beans, mild peperoncini peppers, red onions and some herbs. It is so easy so I'm not even going to post a formal recipe.

Warm+Light Lima Bean Salad
Soak beans+cook them+mix them with some chopped peppers, onions and herbs+add salt'n'pepper+dress with extra virgin olive oil and viola!
{Note: you don't have to cool beans down, just toss it in with the rest of the ingredients and enjoy!}

You can do so much with beans: salads, soups, main dishes and even deserts! Stay tuned for more delicious ways to enjoy these nature's diet pills as I'll be cooking with them very often. You might call me a crazy bean lady! Minus the "crazy" :)

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