Beans, beans, good for your heart.
The more you eat, the more you... Oops.
Beans, beans, the musical fruit.
The more you eat, the more you toot.
Beans, beans, they'll give you gas.
The more you eat, the more you pass.
Beans, beans. Poor things. Beans have been the subject of some of the world's silliest rhymes.
They'll have the last laugh, though, because beans, one of the world's healthiest foods, pack a nutritional punch that's no joke.
Most dried beans are loaded with soluble fiber, which helps maintain good digestive and heart health, balanced blood sugar, and sufficient levels of iron (especially important for women). Kidney beans provide almost double the daily requirement of molybdenum, a trace mineral that actually helps counteract (detoxify) the effect of the sulfites found in food preservatives and red wine. If you've ever experienced a "sulfite headache," it could be from a shortage of molybdenum in your system.
If beans didn't taste great, though, they'd be in the medicine cabinet instead of the pantry.
Native to Peru, beans migrated to South and Central America through Indian trade routes. Spanish explorers like Columbus returned to Europe with kidney beans; then, Portuguese and Spanish traders carried the beans to Asia and Africa. To this day some of the most exciting culinary uses of beans derive from those cultures, dishes like Belizean stewed beans, Nigerian red bean stew, Mexican pork and bean chili and green tomato curry. Some fundamentally American dishes depend on kidney beans, too, including a newfangled three-bean salad and good old franks and beans.
Dried kidney beans, an economical source of protein, will keep up to a year in an airtight container. I always remove them from the plastic bags and store them in a clean jar, sometimes mixed in with other like-minded beans. Be sure to rinse before cooking, and pick out any stones or damaged beans. If you presoak, which tenderizes and helps the beans cook faster, place them in a bowl with water to cover by two inches, in the refrigerator overnight. (The cold prevents fermentation.) Cook on the stovetop, in the oven, or in a slow cooker, and when the beans are mostly cooked through, add seasonings, salt and pepper, and other ingredients.
And to prove that for every bad rhyme there's a wonderful poem, here's a favorite by Gwendolyn Brooks, from her 1960 book with the same title:
The Bean Eaters
They eat beans mostly, this old yellow pair.
Dinner is a casual affair.
Plain chipware on a plain and creaking wood,
Two who are Mostly Good.
Two who have lived their day,
But keep on putting on their clothes
And putting things away.
And remembering . . .
Remembering, with twinklings and twinges,
As they lean over the beans in their rented back room that
is full of beads and receipts and dolls and cloths,
tobacco crumbs, vases and fringes.
Pueblo vegetable stew
As a rule, most dried beans benefit from a soak before you cook them. However, my new slow cooker makes it easy to prepare bean dishes on days when I've forgotten, or just don't have time for, the soaking step. This recipe, adapted from James McNair’s Favorites, serves 6-8.
2 cups dry kidney beans, rinsed
1-1/2 tsp cumin seed
1-2 whole ancho, guajillo, pasilla or other large dried mild to medium-hot chiles, stems and seeds discarded, torn into small pieces
2 Tbsp minced fresh oregano, or 2 tsp crumbled dried oregano
1/4 cup canola oil
1-1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
1 Tbsp minced fresh jalapeño or serrano chile
1 tsp minced garlic
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 cups peeled, seeded, drained and chopped ripe or canned tomato
3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1-3/4 lbs butternut or other winter squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups thawed frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup pine nuts
Fresh cilantro or parsley sprigs for garnish
Drain beans, and place in a slow cooker. Cover with water by one inch. Cook on low for 6 hours.
In a small skillet, combine cumin seed, torn dried chiles and oregano. Place over medium heat and toast, shaking the pan or stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Do not allow to burn. Pour onto a plate to cool, then transfer to a spice grinder or heavy mortar with pestle and grind to a fine powder. Set aside.
In a sauté pan or heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until soft but not browned, 5 minutes. Add jalapeño, garlic, cinnamon, and the ground spice mixture, and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato and 1/2 cup of stock or broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Add to the slow cooker with the beans. Add 1 cup of remaining broth, squash, and corn. Cook on low for 4 hours. Stir once each hour, and if the stew needs more liquid, add some of the remaining broth. A few minutes before serving, stir in the chopped cilantro or parsley.
Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet until slightly brown and fragrant. To serve, ladle the stew into warmed shallow bowls, sprinkle with pine nuts, and garnish with herb sprigs.
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