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Healthy Comfort Food

Nutrient-dense dry beans are filling, economical, and delicious

Brr! It’s the coldest part of the winter in our part of the world.  When it’s frozen outside, comfort food can be—well, comforting.  Happily, some of the most filling and satisfying winter foods are also some of the healthiest—beans, whole grains, and root vegetables are nutrient-dense, high in fiber, versatile, economical, and delicious.

Beans can be eaten at every meal, from appetizers (there’s a world of bean dips!) to desserts (Candy-Cane Black Bean Brownies, anyone?).  It’s a broad topic, and the possible dishes are infinite!  In this article I’m going to share a few Kiva employees’ tried-and-true recipes for dried beans, peas, and lentils.

First, a few general notes:

Dry beans pack a nutritional wallop.  A half-cup serving of cooked beans contains 7 to 8 grams of protein.  They contain a variety of minerals, including iron, copper, phosphorus, manganese, and magnesium.  Darker beans are especially rich in antioxidants. The vitamin list is also impressive: thiamin, folic acid, riboflavin, and vitamin B6, to name a few.

With all that going for them, what’s not to like?  Oh, yeah—that.  You can find many suggestions for eliminating legumes’ unfortunate side effect, most involving changing the soaking and/or cooking water to reduce the indigestible sugars that cause the problem.  Cooking with certain spices like fennel or cumin might help.  Sherrill, our vitamin buyer, also recommends experimenting with different digestive enzymes, such as Solaray’s Super Digestaway or similar brands, to find one that works best for you.

Two cups of dry beans usually weigh about a pound, and a pound of dry beans cooks up into five or six cups, making them an affordable superfood.   (Canned beans also offer great nutrition, and require a lot less preparation.  The sodium content of canned beans can be reduced significantly by draining and rinsing, if desired, and no-salt-added brands such as Eden are also available.)

A few notes about the cooking of beans in general:

Many varieties, especially red kidney beans, contain a toxin (phytohemagglutinin) which must be reduced to a safe level by boiling before eating–beans eaten raw or undercooked can result in a nasty and even dangerous form of food poisoning; undercooking can make them even more toxic than they are raw.  Directions for the safe preparation of beans vary, but the standard method is as follows:

1. Sort.  Put the beans in a shallow pan or dish and pick them over to remove foreign objects (sorting machinery has gotten much more efficient in recent years, but the occasional stone, stick, or bean-sized blob of dirt sometimes gets through).  After any unwanted material is removed, rinse the beans thoroughly to remove dust or dirt.

2. Soak.  Beans should be soaked for at least 5 hours, and preferably 8 or more.  They may be soaked in the refrigerator to reduce the possibility of fermentation.

3.  Discard the soaking water, and add fresh water to cook.

4.  Boil.  Beans should be boiled rapidly for at least ten minutes for safety.

These steps are especially important if you plan to cook beans in a slow-cooker:  many do not get hot enough to reduce the phytohemagglutinin to a safe level, and cooking at too cool a temperature may increase its level.  Many bean recipes work wonderfully in a slow-cooker and are well worth the extra steps of pre-soaking and boiling.

Southern Style Mixed Bean Soup

Pretty much any mix of beans will work in this recipe: kidney beans, red beans, black beans, black-eyed peas, pinto beans, cranberry beans, lima beans, green and yellow split peas, green lentils, etc. etc.—the more the merrier.  Be aware that when you cook black beans, the cooking water will turn purple due to pigment in the beans.  Don’t be alarmed.

2 cups mixed beans and peas, picked, rinsed, and soaked overnight
1 hamhock or hambone
1 16-oz can diced tomatoes
2 medium onions, chopped
6 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb sausage (spicy Italian is my first choice, but any tasty sausage, either sliced links or loose, will do)
2 chicken breasts
1/2 cup parsley, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 tsp powdered bay leaf or 2 whole bay leaves
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp marjoram
1 Tbsp salt, more or less if desired
Pepper to taste

Put beans and 3 quarts water in a heavy-bottomed stockpot.  Add 1 Tbsp salt and the spices.  Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Add undrained tomatoes, chopped onions, minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer uncovered to allow reduction, 1 1/2 hours or until thickened.

Meanwhile, cook the sausage and chicken, let cool, and chop or slice.

Add the chicken, sausage, parsley, and wine; simmer 30 – 45 minutes.

Stir often and taste occasionally as the soup approaches being done.  It keeps well, freezes well, and is best made the day before serving, as its taste will improve with time.  Great served with crusty bread.

Split Pea Soup

This is a thick, traditional, solidly satisfying version of split pea soup.  

Dried peas and lentils don’t require pre-soaking, though cooking time can be reduced by soaking.  

This is traditionally made with a ham hock or a hambone.  You can also use deli (sandwich) ham or bacon for flavoring (remove big pieces of limp bacon before serving).  I’ve never tried to make this as a vegan dish; however, a little smoked paprika or other savory flavor ought to lend the necessary note.

2 cups dried split peas (green or yellow)
7 – 8 cups water; can be partially replaced with chicken or vegetable stock, or add 1 Tbsp Better Than BouillonChicken Stock with the water (optional)
1 ham hock, hambone with some meat on it, chopped ham, etc.
2 carrots
1 large or medium onion
3 stalks celery
2 – 3 Tbsp butter, olive oil, ghee, or a blend
2 small to medium potatoes 
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf

Chop the onion and slice the carrots and celery.  Melt the butter in a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot over medium heat.  Add the vegetables and meat and cook, stirring, until the vegetables’ color deepens, about 5 minutes.  Add the water, split peas, Better Than Bouillon (if using), mustard, and herbs.  Stir and bring to a boil; reduce heat until bubbles are barely rising.

Stir occasionally until the peas start to turn into a puree, then stir more frequently to prevent scorching (which happens easily—be vigilant!).  Cooking time varies, but I find I usually leave this soup on the stove for several hours.  Freezes well.

Occasionally I’ve added a small dash of wine vinegar or a little white wine to the soup to lend a little zest.  Great served with whole-grain bread and a green salad.

Gil’s Spinach-Lentil Soup

An original recipe by our multi-talented grocery-buyer Gil, this soup is zesty and lighter than many lentil recipes, and equally good in winter or summer.  Easy, delicious and unusual!  The use of the smaller and firmer French lentils is a must. 


3 cups French lentils

9 cups vegetable stock
Bay leaf
Olive oil
2 onions, chopped
5 or 6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large lemon or two small ones, zested and juiced (save juice)
Cumin
Salt
Black pepper
About three big handfuls of fresh, chopped spinach 
Half a bunch of cilantro
More salt


Heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil and simmer the onions, garlic, lemon zest, cumin, salt, and black pepper until “just so.” (Gil leaves this up to your judgement.)


Combine lentils and stock, add bay leaf and salt to taste; bring to a boil and simmer approximately 30 minutes (test lentils for doneness).


Add spinach, cilantro, and lemon juice.


Reheat to cook the spinach.  Adjust spices.  Serve.


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