For the Love of Beans

By day, Cathy Elton is a busy advertising copywriter. By night (and weekend), she is an even busier food blogger. What Would Cathy Eat? focuses exclusively on heart-healthy vegetarian recipes. Cathy found her way to heart-healthy eating the hard way, after having a severely blocked artery at the tender age of 44. Her goal is to help people eat well while still enjoying adventurous and satisfying food.

Unprocessed Beans

Aside from vegetables freshly plucked from my garden, I think beans are the ultimate unprocessed food. I mean, just look at them. They’re perfect little balls of nutrition.

For anyone who wants to eat a more unprocessed diet – especially a vegetarian one – beans are absolutely essential. As holistic nutrition expert Alex Jamieson [who wrote a guest post for October Unprocessed 2010] explains, “Beans and legumes are great sources of vegetarian protein, no matter which ones you choose.” Of course, beans are superstars in the fiber department, and diets high in fiber have been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. That alone should motivate you to be a bean-a-holic.

Here’s a roundup of delicious and inventive ways to incorporate beans and lentils into every meal of the day. I’m not going to cover overly-familiar territory like beans and rice, chili, lentil soup, or any form of tofu. I want to inspire you to think outside the chili pot!

Beans for breakfast

First of all, Johnny Cash wrote a song called Beans for Breakfast. What more reason could you need to try it?  OK, nutrition is a pretty good reason, too. Adding beans to your morning can help you break out of that refined white flour breakfast routine.

  • Black beans, egg whites (or tofu), salsa and reduced-fat or vegan cheese in a whole wheat tortilla.  Healthy breakfast heaven.
  • Eat breakfast like an Egyptian with Ful Medames, a traditional fava bean dish.
  • Feeling more traditional? Whisk a half-cup of pureed white beans with four whole eggs, four egg whites, a cup of skim milk and a bit of vanilla and cinnamon for a protein-spiked French toast batter.  No one will taste the beans.

Beans for dessert

Don’t be skeptical – beans blend into dessert recipes seamlessly. It’s a perfect way to get more fiber into your kids’ diets … not to mention your own. Here are some favorites full of unprocessed bean-y goodness (most of them gluten-free.)

Lentils as a meat substitute

The chewy texture of lentils makes them a great stand-in for meat. They work best in hearty dishes like these:

Chickpea flour for breads, tarts and pizza

Whether you call it besan, gram, chickpea flour or garbanzo bean flour, this stuff is my new obsession, and a great way to add fiber – and flavor – to doughs and baked goods. Chickpea flour is readily available from Bob’s Red Mill, but if you want to get really unprocessed about it, you can make your own.

  • Instead of serving nan with your next Indian meal, try these spiced-up Missi Rotis for a higher-fiber accompaniment.
  • Chickpea flour makes for an incredibly good savory tart crust. I recently made this swiss onion and chard tart, adding a base layer of cashew cream, and it was swoon-worthy.
  • It’s easy to make socca, a chickpea flour pancake originating in the south of France, or a similar Italian flatbread called farinata. Madhur Jaffrey’s chickpea flour and parmesan pizza was inspired by these, and makes for an easy weeknight meal.

Bean salads

Sure, you’ve sprinkled some beans into your green salad, and you’ve had the ubiquitous black bean salad with corn. But dig deeper into the bean salad world and you’ll start to realize there are spectacular ones that deserve more than side-dish status.

Bean cakes

Bean cakes (or patties if you prefer) aren’t trying to be burgers. They are a softer but equally satisfying centerpiece for a meal, usually topped with a flavorful salsa or chutney. Trust me, you won’t miss meat when you have one of these babies on your plate:

White beans for creamy soups and sauces

White beans are a must-have for gluten-free cooks as well as cholesterol-watchers. Pureed with some water or stock, they provide an easy way to thicken soups and sauces without using wheat flour or heavy cream. It’s an “invisible” way to add protein and fiber to your soup or stew.  Lentils can similarly thicken

  • For a creamy vegan take on pasta with vodka sauce, make your favorite marinara recipe, and stir a half cup of pureed cannellini beans and a few tablespoons of vodka near the end of the cooking time. Mix with cooked pasta and you’re done!
  • White bean flour is another handy thickener for gravies, soups and sauces – and a quarter cup contains 8 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein.

Bean and lentil sandwich spreads

Rather than eating meat or even a processed vegetarian “lunch meat” on your sandwich, why not try a delicious bean spread?

  • Simply puree black beans with a little olive oil, lime juice, cayenne pepper and garlic. Spread on whole wheat bread with avocado, roasted red peppers and red onions.

Crunchy bean snacks

Why munch on chips or pretzels when you can get your snack fix and protein & fiber fix at the same time? Make a big batch of roasted edamame or chickpeas and you won’t find yourself reaching for processed snacks.

Ezekiel bread, cereal and tortillas

OK, I have to admit, I used to pass right by Food For Life’s Ezekiel products in the supermarket. Between the Bible reference on the packaging and the idea of sprouted legumes in my cereal, I wasn’t exactly sold. But my growing dissatisfaction with sweet breakfast cereals, and a desire to boost my protein and fiber intake prompted me to take another look. Ezekiel bread is made from wheat, barley, beans, lentils, millet, and spelt, creating a complete protein – a big deal for vegetarians and vegans. Much to my surprise, I love the cereal, which is like a crunchier version of Grape Nuts – with no sweetener added.

A few last thoughts

I hope I’ve inspired you to make your October: Unprocessed a bean-filled one. Alex Jamieson wanted me to pass along these shopping tips: “When buying beans, quality is important. Buy organic dried or canned beans as several studies have shown that organic foods, including beans, offer more nutrition because they’re grown in healthier soil. Also, buy your beans from brands like Eden Foods in BPA-free cans to avoid toxic residue from the packaging.”My own tip is to get dried heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo. Once you’ve had Yellow Indian Womans, Good Mother Stallards or Christmas Limas, you won’t go back.

, ,

18 Responses to For the Love of Beans

  1. Jennifer @ Raisin Questions October 3, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    Thanks for this great post! I clicked on so many links and learned a lot.

  2. Sophie October 3, 2011 at 9:07 am #

    mmm I love beans! Ill try some of those recipes for sure! Just this morning I made a red bean and lentil dish similar to the Ful Medames posted up there. Just cook brown lentil (1cup) and 1/4 cup of red beans overnight over very low heat. Mash it up in the morning with some honey, butter and salt. Its a persian dish from my mother-in-law called Adassi, and its delicious and comforting!

  3. Kristina @ spabettie October 3, 2011 at 12:12 pm #

    THIS IS MY FAVORITE POST EVER !

    sorry for yelling, I’m excited. I love beans. thanks for such a great roundup – I love all the categories and have some new ideas!

  4. Mary Smith October 3, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    This is such an amazing round-up of bean recipes. When I first added kidney beans and chick peas to salad it changed my life! Viva la beans!

  5. Angie October 3, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    Can you tell me a good way to cook dried beans that produce less gas :) My husband (not me, of course) has a terrible time when I cook dried beans & I’m wondering if there is a better way. I soak over night, rinse, add water and cook slowly ’till soft. I usually freeze them after they are cooked.

  6. Joanna October 3, 2011 at 2:29 pm #

    I am so excited to see the recipe for lentil shepard’s pie, I completely intend to make one this month!

  7. Cathy @What Would Cathy Eat? October 3, 2011 at 2:53 pm #

    Hi Angie. The question about gas is a common one! Soaking the beans before cooking will help. After soaking, drain the beans and cook with fresh water. Also, adding a 3-inch strip of dried kombu seaweed is supposed to help convert the complex sugars into a more digestible form.

  8. janet @ the taste space October 3, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    I agree, this is the best bean post ever. So detailed with excellent examples! Love it!!

  9. Rebecca ~ Sweet Baby Yams October 3, 2011 at 3:43 pm #

    I eat beans twice a week, but I have never thought of baking with them. Definitely best bean post!

  10. Katherine October 3, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

    Love this post and I love beans as well. :) I don’t eat a lot of meat, so they are my go to for hearty filling protein. Not to mention soul satisfying.

  11. Jeanne October 4, 2011 at 7:14 am #

    I am inspired. So many great recipes, and now I can get out of my bean cooking rut! I can’t wait to try the lentil bolognese sauce.

  12. Laura's Last Ditch--Vintage Kitchenwares October 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm #

    Beans are a personal favorite. I’ll gladly eat Ful Medames for breakfast.

  13. Cathy@ What would Cathy Eat? October 10, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    Jeanne, one tip if you try that lentil bolognese sauce. Twice recently I made a version of that sauce and found that the type of lentils makes a huge difference! Spanish pardina lentils, a small brown type, were SO much better – it affects the sauce’s texture in a big way. I just updated my own vegan bolognese sauce recipe to reflect this discovery: http://www.whatwouldcathyeat.com/2010/06/vegan-bolognese-sauce/

  14. Emma October 20, 2012 at 8:17 am #

    Great Post – what a fantastic range of ideas.

    Garbanzo flour in pancakes is great for savoury lunches – my kids love little ones with grated cheese, apple, carrot and ham combos.
    Definitely want to try some of your suggestions. Thanks!!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Défi jour 2: soupe de lentilles au curry avec presque pas de sodium! | Brutalimentation - October 4, 2011
  2. Mixed Lentil and Tomato Stew « the taste space – steam, bake, boil, shake! - October 31, 2011
  3. Preparing for Live Below the Line | Tantrum in a Teacup - April 24, 2013

Leave a Reply