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©2009 Shanna Lea (formerly Shanna Ohmes)
Did you know there are 13,000 species of the legume family? Legumes include beans, chickpeas, peas, lentils, peanuts, cashews and more. I will just talk about a few today.
Beans are high in molybdenum, folate, fiber, tryptophan, manganese, protein, magnesium, B1, phosphorus and iron. They are part of a heart healthy diet with lots of health benefits. They are beneficial for women during menstruation, pregnancy and for growing children and adolescents. Beans have anti-cancer compounds and also have omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Beans are a cheap nutritious food when cooked properly and included in a diet of lacto-fermented grains and healthy fats and protein. But most people shy away from them because of their gas-forming compounds. The reason that beans produce this gas is because they have sugars called oligosaccharides that we can’t digest. We have bacteria in our large intestine that try to consume these sugars, and this causes the gas.
To reduce this problem, many traditional cultures learned how to carefully prepare them. One way to help reduce this problem is soaking and fermenting for long periods of time and then cooking for a several hours. They have added various spices to help inhibit the bacteria which consume the sugars. Kombu, a type of sea vegetable, is used with beans and adds trace minerals essential for the body. Spices used include cumin, fennel, ginger, epazote, anise seeds and coriander seeds.
Dried beans store well, just store them in air tight containers. I usually add a couple of bay leaves to the jars to repel any pests. The best way to prepare beans is to soak them in water with some whey, rinse and then cook in fresh for several hours.
Here are a few beans to get you started:
Black beans: Also called turtle beans. Just like their name, these beans are black and shiny, and full of antioxidants. In fact, research has shown that the darker the color of the bean, the richer it is in antioxidants! Black beans as well as navy, pinto, kidney and other beans are varieties that originated from the same species in Peru. Spanish explorers introduced these beans to Europe in the 15th century. They became popular with cultures around the world because they were an inexpensive source of protein. Today Mexico, Brazil, Cuba, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic include black beans as a part of their staple diet.
Kidney: These beans are shaped like a kidney! They are dark red in color and absorb the flavors of the dishes they are simmered in. White kidney beans are called cannellini beans. Kidney beans are the traditional beans in chili, a hearty Mexican soup.
Navy: These creamy white little beans got their name because they were a staple food for the United States Navy in the early 20th century. They are good for making baked beans. Navy beans are particularly high in folate and magnesium, which is great for heart health.
Pinto: Pinto in Spanish means “painted”. These beans are a beige color splashed with a reddish-brown.
Lima: These are often called “butter beans” because they have a buttery texture. These beans are thought to originate over 7,000 years ago in Lima, Peru. They have been a popular Native American dish called “succotash” with corn. They grow well in humid tropical weather and became a staple in Africa and Asia.
Garbanzo: These are also known as chickpeas, Egyptian peas and Bengal grams. The shape of these legumes resembles a ram’s head, hence the Latin name Cicer arietinum. These nutty tasting beans originated in the Middle East about 7,000 years ago. They were cultivated by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans and then spread to other regions by Spanish and Portuguese explorers. Garbanzo beans are used in traditional Middle Eastern and Indian recipes for falafels, curries and hummus.
Black-eyed Peas: Originated in India, but quickly moved into Asia, the West Indies and United States as early as the 1600’s. Eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is to supposed to bring you good luck for the year, and if eaten with greens will bring you prosperity. This tradition has been passed down for thousands of years, first being recorded in the Babylonian Talmud. But most of us know it as a tradition from after the Civil War.
Basic Beans Recipe
2 cups dried beans (black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas or white beans)
2 tablespoons whey or lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed
Sea salt and black pepper
Put the beans in a bowl and cover with warm water. Stir in the whey or lemon juice. Set in a warm place for 12-24 hours. The smaller the bean, the shorter the soaking time is. Drain and rinse the beans well and put in a pot. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Skim off any foam that forms on the top of the water. Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the garlic and cover. Simmer 4-8 hours. Check occasionally and add more water if needed. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.