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The Musical Fruit

June 6, 2011

Some guff about beans

Beans, beans, good for your heart.
Beans, beans, make you fart.
The more you fart, the better you feel,
So let’s have beans with every meal!

– My Mother

The humble legume (the “proper” name for beans, peas, etc.) is a plant that has apparently played a vital role in civilization. They’ve been with us for a long time: they were some of the first crops domesticated, back in the Bronze Age, and were popular with the American Indians, the Aztecs, Egyptians, Greeks & Romans. In fact, some of the most famous Roman families took their names from legumes: Fabius (fava bean – with liver and chianti?), Lentulus (lentil), Piso (pea), and Cicero (chickpea). The Romans were weird like that.

In the Middle Ages, beans were the main source of protein for peasants (in other words, nearly everybody), hunting being pretty much restricted to the nobs. During the Age of Discovery, beans were the staple of sailors, so being below decks on a Ship of the Line must have been like a scene out of “Blazing Saddles”. Even in the Great Depression, beans were known as “poor man’s meat”. Presumably they should nowadays be known as “meat for hippies”.

As my mother’s rhyme says, beans are also pretty good for you. They’re a low-cholesterol source of protein, and are high in stuff like folate, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, potassium, calcium and iron; all that good stuff. They’re also high in fibre, so not only do they make you fart (which is fun), they have also been linked to a lowered risk of colon cancer (which is not fun).

Always have beans in the pantry

If you’ve got a can of beans, you’ve got a meal. Add to that, they’re cheap and will store fine for ages, so as far as I’m concerned, a store of tins, as well as dried beans in the pantry is an absolute must-have. At the least, keep some kidney (or maybe pinto) and haricot (also known as navy) beans, but add some variety with black-eyed beans, lima beans, and red and brown lentils. I find I use broad beans (fava beans) and chickpeas (garbanzo beans) less often. Adzukis are another.

Soaking beans

This isn’t absolutely necessary. In fact, if you’re like me, you don’t think far enough ahead in your meal planning to actually bother soaking beans. Or you just forget.

But there are some benefits to soaking beans – you don’t have to cook them as long, and by soaking them for at least 6 hours, then draining and cooking them in fresh water, they won’t be as gassy (which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your point of view).

A cheat’s way is to boil the beans for about 10 minutes, then drain them and cook them as per the recipe.

Over the next few days, I’ll post a bunch of recipes based around our friends, the legumes.

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