Green Eats: Lean, mean beans

In this first offering of her new healthy food column, Phyllis Glazer investigates the many uses of legumes.

beans 88 (photo credit: )
beans 88
(photo credit: )
Small but assertive, beans remind me a little of fresh coriander - they're a food that most people either love or hate, but few know how to use. And yet the simple bean in all its incarnations is one of the best foods on the planet: inexpensive, healthy and tasty, they pack a nutritional wallop and are good for us, and the environment. Why add beans to your diet? A good source of protein, calcium, iron, and potassium, a super source of zinc, manganese, and a range of B vitamins, including folic acid, beans are also a great source of dietary fiber, considered beneficial to help lower cholesterol. And they're versatile too: A perfect addition to soups and salads, hearty stews and vegetable dishes, beans can be pureed into spreads like humous, made into balls or patties like felafel, and dried and ground into flour for thickening dishes and producing pastries, puddings and even desserts, like they do in Japan. There are dozens of beans available in Israel, but I divide them into two basic categories: those that are easy and those that are harder to digest. The more frequently you eat beans the easier your body will learn to digest them, but for beginners or sensitive individuals, I'd suggest starting with the most easily digested types like the whole family of lentils, split peas, mung beans and black-eyed peas. These should not be soaked before using, because they'll lose their starchy ability to thicken. The harder-to-digest beans include the ones we usually put in cholent, like chickpeas, white beans, red beans or pinto beans, and special types like black beans. To make these more digestible you'll want to soak them overnight (use the water the next day to water your plants). Another method suggests boiling them for five minutes and then soaking them for two or three hours at most. The second method preserves more of the nutritional value, but does not help digestion as much as long soaking. In almost every country of the world that uses beans as a major source of protein, you'll also find frequent use of cumin or coriander seed to season the food. These spices help alleviate that gaseous feeling that seems to be a by-product of bean ingestion. I use ground cumin and coriander seed in soups, and whole coriander seed in cholent. (Be advised - coriander seed ("zra'ei kuzbara") tastes nothing like fresh coriander. Other anti-gas spices include fennel, anise and caraway. There's also sprouting. Sprouting legumes, especially lentils and mung beans which sprout within 12-24 hours, greatly improves both nutritional value and digestibility. They can even be consumed as is, without cooking, or added at the last minute to soups and stews. Supermarkets and health food stores also carry bean sprout "mixes" called "Navtutim"; these should be steamed for around 10 minutes before eating. MULTI-PURPOSE CURRIED SPLIT-PEA PUREE Delicious and nutritious, this wonderful combination is chock-full of fiber and healthy warming spices. Use it as a filling for filo, puff pastry, tortillas or toasted pita, or as a base on which to serve broiled fish or meat. Add boiling water if you like, and voila! it becomes a soup. Makes 2 cups
  • 450 gr. split peas
  • 1 medium potato, scrubbed and thickly sliced
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. turmeric
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • 2 Tbsp. curry powder
  • 1 tsp. each: ground cumin and coriander
  • salt to taste Pick over the split peas and place in a strainer. Rinse and transfer to a medium pot with the bay leaf and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil and cook, partially covered, over low heat until the split peas are soft - about 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that develops on top. Drain, but reserve any remaining cooking water. Remove the bay leaf and place in a food processor together with the honey and spices. Grind the mixture to desired consistency, adding reserved cooking water if desired. May be stored in a covered container up to 3 days in the refrigerator. GREEN LENTILS & BARLEY WITH TOMATOES & ROSEMARY Green or brown lentils can be used for this recipe, but I prefer the delicate, small, green, organic Verte du Puy - a delicacy in France and here found almost exclusively organic. Serves 6
  • cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • cup chopped onion
  • cup chopped celery
  • 2 cups canned whole tomatoes, cut into pieces
  • 1 cups water
  • cup lentils
  • 1⁄3 pearled barley
  • 2 Tbsp. honey
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • pinch dried rosemary (optional)
  • cup shredded carrots Place the lentils and barley in a pot and cover with water. Swish them around, drain and cover with fresh water. Repeat until the water runs clear. In a medium-sized pot, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion until tender. Add celery and cook five minutes longer. Add remaining ingredients except the carrots and bring to a boil; cover and simmer 25 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove cover, add carrots and cook five minutes longer or until barley and lentils are tender. DOUBLE LUBIA SALAD Green beans and Black-Eyed Peas The term lubia in Hebrew refers to both green beans and black-eyed peas, the former indigenous to Central or South America brought to the Old World by explorers, and the latter a native of China, probably reaching the Middle East and Mediterranean with Arab traders millennia ago. Serves 6
  • 3 cups fresh or frozen whole green beans, thawed
  • 1 cup black-eyed peas
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 Tbsp. raspberry or red wine vinegar
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced or pressed
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp. chopped fresh coriander or parsley Rinse the fresh green beans and pat dry. Snip off the tips and tails and cut in half (kitchen shears are helpful in this process). Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil, and when it bubbles again add the green beans and blanch for 2-3 minutes, until just tender and still bright green. (If using frozen thawed beans blanch for 1 minute.) Remove the green beans and reserve the cooking water. Rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking process. Drain. Drop the black-eyed peas and the bay leaf into the same cooking water as the green beans, and bring to a boil. Cook for 30-40 minutes until tender but not soft. Drain and rinse in cold water. Drain well. In a serving bowl, mix the green beans with the black-eyed peas and bay leaf. In a small bowl, whisk olive oil, vinegar and minced garlic clove together, and pour over the beans. Season with salt and pepper, garnish with coriander or parsley and let stand for 10 minutes to blend flavors. Taste and adjust seasonings and serve. (To prepare this salad in advance, mix the cooked black-eyed peas and green beans with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, cover and chill in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature and add the remaining ingredients up to 1 hour before serving, or the dressing will fade the color of the green beans.) NOTE: To make this a main-dish salad, add a small can of drained chunk white tuna, cup of thinly sliced red onion, and cup of black olives.n Phyllis Glazer is a food consultant and the author of The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking (Harper-Collins). [email protected]