Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Beans of Temptation

Dried or canned, beans are a staple food around the world. A legume by any other name, would be just as tasty. Combined with grains, such as rice, beans create a complete protein, making it possible to live without meat.

If you want to, that is.

Seeing as how the political season is over, I think it's a great time to talk about beans. Eating lots of beans is purported to turn you into a politician. Well, at least they fill you with hot air.

Beans are easy to prepare, but the dried variety can take some time. Most need to be soaked before cooking. I have a large supply of dried beans on hand, as part of my food storage, but I'm buying canned beans almost exclusively these days. When you consider how much energy and time goes into cooking them, you're really not saving any money with dried ones. The only advantage to dried is the absorption of flavors in slow-cooked dishes.

If you are using dried beans, make sure you rinse and sort through them thoroughly. A small rock, masquerading as a bean, isn't something you want to crack your teeth on.

Red Kidney beans are staple in Mexican cooking, their bright red skin adds great color to salads or soups. I love them in chili.

Canellini beans are good for most soups and stews, but can also be used in salads. When cooked, they have a fluffy texture. In Italian cooking they're generally referred to as fagioli, but are also known as white kidney beans.

Black beans are my favorite. They're found in all kinds of cuisine, from the Caribbean, to Mexico, to China, to Brazil. I love them slow cooked with rice and ham for added flavor.

Borlotti beans have a creamy texture, making them a favorite in Italian cooking. They're found in many soups and dips. The streaked skin adds a great look to mixed bean salads and bean casseroles.

Adzuki beans have a strong flavor and are great in salads, and mixed with other beans. They're also popular in certain Chinese and Japanese rice dishes and soups. They work well in sweet dishes and form the main ingredient in red bean paste.

Chickpeas are a main ingredient in hummus, falafel, and are commonly found in other Middle Eastern dishes. They're also used in Indian curries and slow-cooked Spanish casseroles. Of all the beans I've cooked, they have the longest soaking and cooking time.

I don't think that Split Peas are technically a bean, but most of the recipes I use them for remind me of bean recipes. Yellow or green split peas can be used in soups, purees, stews, and the like. Green split peas, cooked to a puree with ham, chicken stock, and onions, makes my wife's favorite soup.

I can't imagine that Lentils are actually beans, either, but I could be wrong. They remind me more of mutant split peas than beans. I like them in soups and curries. They're not too bad in salads, either, if you don't overcook them. Cooked too long and, like split peas, they lose there shape and become a puree once known as pottage.

Not everyone likes lentils. Even though I do, I can't imagine why anyone would sell their inheritance (birthright) for them, by Esau certainly did.

Genesis 25:29 - 34

29 And Jacob sod pottage: and Esau came from the field, and he was faint:
30 And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom.
31 And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright.
32 And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me?
33 And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he sware unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob.
34 Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentiles; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright.


Jacob must have made some pretty tasty beans.

Photo by Marina Nisi

3 comments:

Mark's Black Pot said...

I don't know about facts, but I had heard that peas were legumes, too. Just sayin...

MRKH

John Newman said...

It turns out your right, Mark. Wikipedia says they are "the small spherical seed or the seed-pod of the legume Pisum sativum." Same thing with lentils. It turns out that soybeans and peanuts are legumes, too. Thanks for the heads up!

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