Unadorned and simple whole foods are often the very best foods. One of the most wonderful meals I ever ate was enjoyed at the end of a long afternoon of walking all over the old Danville, Virginia, Fairgrounds (now the site of a shopping center and bridge approach), riding rides, and admiring exhibits. A tired-out playmate, our two frazzled mommies, and I sat down under an awning on the Fairgrounds to assuage our hunger. I do not remember many more satisfying meal than the bowl of steaming-hot pintos I was served!
Because nutritionists tout the desirability of high-fiber, high protein, low-fat beans, a bean craze has hit America. Not only do beans add variety and wholesomeness to the diet, they seem "old-fashioned", and honest, whole-food cooking is another current trend. Beans are a even a key ingredient in many of the currently popular ethnic cuisines.
The soluble fiber of beans is the primary reason for the current bean boom. Soluble fiber, the same “miracle” component found in oatmeal, is believed to lower LDL, the “bad” fiber in blood. Half a cup of cooked kidney beans contains 2.5 grams of fiber, more than a bowl of oatmeal. In a 1988 study at the University of Kentucky College Of Medicine, patients who were fed a half cup of dried cooked beans per day experienced a 24 per cent decrease in LDL cholesterol after only three weeks. In addition to that, beans are rich in B-vitamins, potassium, and calcium, and contain very little sodium.
Beans unfortunately can cause flatulence. To circumvent this problem, drain off the water in which you soak the beans, and add fresh water for the cooking. Another trick to reduce the “gas” is to add a pinch of ginger to the beans as they cook. It is also said that the long-cooked beans are easier to digest than those cooked until just done.
“Heirloom beans” are becoming more and more popular. These are the varieties of legumes cultivated by European settlers in the early in the early days of the colonies. With lyrical and descriptive names such as Appaloosa, Black Valentine, and Jacob's Cattle Bean, these beans atract our interest. Other exotic varietes sugh as Chinese and Cuban black beans, chickpeas, Egyptian lentils, adzuki, Mexican strawberry beans, anasazi and bolita beans, Christmas limas, and Mexican strawberry beans call out for recipe experimentation.
Most dry beans belong to the common green bean family, Phaseolas vulgaris, which was cultivated over 7000 years ago in Mexico and Peru. A staple of the Native American diet, along with squash and corn, the legumes were even assigned spiritual importance. Native Americans developed at least twelve varieties, ranging in color from black to white. The six cardinal directions (east, west, north, south, up, and down) were represented by yellow, blue, red, white, multicolored, and black beans. Today we enjoy an equally wide range of colors and types: cannelini, flageolets, soybeans, fava, lentils, pintoes, soldier beans, etc. A current best seller is the mixed bag of beans labeled “soup beans,” a gay mixture demonstrating beans' “earthiness and delicate flavor.”
Be aware that a small bag of beans cooks up to a big pot of beans. In the absence of his wife, my husband's grandfather Esca Mitchell of Bland County, Virginia, once teamed up with bachelor uncle Henry Helvey to prepare dried beans. Not knowing that dried beans swell, they gamely poured a 10-pound bag into a pan of hot water. Soon every pot and dishpan in sight was filled and overflowing with their bubbling, spilling, growing mass of beans!
Copyright © 2001–2006 Patricia B. Mitchell.