Marvelous Meatless Meals

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A Bevy Of Beautiful Beans

Though the summer was disappointing in many ways, it was a pretty good year for beans. We ate most of our beans fresh, but our local farmer’s markets offer a gorgeous array of dried beans: I’ve found Scarlet Runner, Black Pearl, Dragon Tongue, Anasazi, Painted Lady, Cranberry, Pinto, Broad Windsor, and Favas to try.

North Americans are not huge bean eaters in general, but colorful, flavorful beans are treasured around the world. In Japan, bars serve Beer Friend edamame, fresh soy beans eaten like popcorn. In China, Adzuki beans are considered medicinal; high in complex protein, iron, folate, potassium, zinc and fiber, these wonder beans also lack soy’s phytoestrogens, so are safe for those with breast cancer.

Beans and Proteins

Adults need about 7 grams of protein for every 20 pounds of body weight each day. That might mean 35 daily grams for a small woman or 70 for a big guy. Americans often over-eat proteins, but like any food, excess protein is stored as fat, and may weaken bone mass and stress kidneys. Also, while red meat offers complete protein, it comes with lots of saturated fats.

A healthy diet includes multiple protein sources, including beans, grains, nuts, and vegetables. Non-meat proteins work best in partnerships that offer all the amino acids we need. Classic meatless combinations include Mexican rice and beans, Indian beans and grains, and Mediterranean beans with vegetables and cheese.

Make My Day Meatless

Oatmeal or breakfast cereal with yogurt, an almond butter/apricot jam sandwich, and a dinner of fish with three bean salad easily adds up to a day’s worth of protein. For variety, try chipotle-spiked bean tacos with corn tortillas and cheese; salmon with black bean salsa; black rice with curried adzuki beans; or serve fresh bread with my favorite Tuscan bean spread instead of butter.

Bean Buyers Beware

Note: If you use canned cooked beans, rinse very well before using. Make note of and avoid the brands whose cans have white lining; there are health concerns associated with this epoxy coating, which leaches significant amounts of Bisphenol A (BPA). In the human body, this substance mimics estrogen, and exposure to BPA is linked with elevated risks for breast cancer in adults and early puberty in children.

The FDA estimates that canned food makes up 17% of the American diet. BPA can linings are common, yet there are presently no FDA regulations or guidelines for its use, though several billion pounds are made annually. The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a watchdog consumer entity, found BPA in over half the canned goods they tested, at  “200 times the government’s traditional safe level of exposure for industrial chemicals.”

EWG tests of canned products showed that chicken soup, infant formula, and ravioli contained the most BPA, and that even a single serving of the most contaminated foods exposes women and children to amounts of BPA shown to cause serious adverse effects in animal testing.

Grow Your Own or Buy Local Organic

Once again, the best advice is to grow your own or buy organically raised beans sources. If you can, buy locally grown organic beans; you’ll find they need less soaking and cooking time and reward you with lovely texture and rich, subtle flavors.

Tuscan White Bean Spread

2 cups cooked Cannelloni or any white beans, rinsed
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fruity virgin olive oil

In a food processor, combine beans, garlic, lemon rind, pepper flakes, salt, and pepper and puree to a fairly smooth paste. Open feed tube and add oil while processor is running. Add lemon juice to taste, starting with 2 teaspoons. Makes about 2 cups. Refrigerate leftovers, but serve at room temperature.

Quinoa with Caramelized Pears And Black Beans

1 cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon cumin or celery seeds
1/2 teaspoon soy sauce or shoyu
8 leaves Butter or Boston lettuce
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 Bartlett pears, cored and quartered
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1-1/2 cups black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup plain Greek yogurt
1 lime, quartered

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, toast quinoa and cumin seeds over medium high heat until browned (3-5 minutes), shaking often. Add 2 cups water and the salt, bring to a boil, cover pan, reduce heat and cook until tender (15-20 minutes). Meanwhile, arrange lettuce on 4 dinner plates. Heat oil in a frying pan over medium high, add pear slices and brown well (3-4 minutes per side). Add 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar and cook for 1 minute. Remove pears to lettuce plates. Add beans and remaining balsamic vinegar to pan, bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute. Toss beans with cooked quinoa and yogurt and put a scoop on each plate. Serve with a wedge of lime. Serves four.

Bean Tips

To explore the world of beans, visit a bulk food department and buy just a cup of several kinds. Try adzuki beans with curried rice, black turtle beans with fresh lime and cilantro, or white beans with diced tomatoes and basil.

For perfect beans quickly, cover 1 cup beans with 4 cups water, bring to a boil, remove from heat, cover pan and let sit for 1 hour. Drain, rinse, and return beans to pan with 3-4 cups water or broth. Bring to a simmer over low heat and cook until tender (20-40 minutes).

Salt can toughen beans, so only season completely cooked beans. For a fuller flavor, use soy sauce, tamari, shoyu, ponzu, or Braggs Liquid Aminos instead of salt.

Beans love peppers, so try adding 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried pepper flakes, chipotle peppers, cayenne, smoked paprika, or tabasco as soon as the bean skins are tender.

To give beans a new flavor, add rosemary, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme, or summer savory to the cooking water.

Enjoy soy in moderation, eating tofu or edamame 2-3 times a week. Avoid concentrated soy extracts, which can have estrogenizing effects.

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