walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

I don't know beans

But I will.

I keep meaning to post about my leguminous musings, and I keep thinking I _have_ posted but I haven't. Expect this to be lengthy.

I think somewhere in the back of everyone's head there's some basic information about beans. Like, they make you fart. You eat them with grains to get a "complete" protein. Chili. Pasta fagioli. Caldo verde. Boston baked beans. Refried beans. Edamame. Tofu/tempeh/TVP. Burritos. Frijoles. Pinto gallo. Etc. Occasionally, if someone really makes us think about it, we'll remember that coffee comes from a bean, and chocolate comes from a bean. We know that beans and legumes are somehow related, but may or may not have any detailed idea of what that relationship might be. If we read _Guns, Germs and Steel_ or similar, we may have run across the word "pulse" as applied to food, and may have even concluded that pulses are somehow related to beans and legumes.

As a result of my milk allergy, I have slightly more awareness of The Bean, in that soy milk is a common substitute for cow's milk. Because of my deep and abiding affection for vegans, I have occasionally slid along the path towards vegetarianism, which again has caused me to glance off of bean dishes.

It is, however, not easy to find out about beans. Where do you buy them? How do you cook them? Canned is nice, but the whole sodium thing made that really hard until I discovered Eden's no salt added canned beans line. A friend turned me onto the McDougall cookbook, within which I found my oh-so-favorite black bean sloppy joe recipe. I eventually concocted a no-meat/all-bean chili that I like to have periodically. And Cafe Flora's hoppin' john fritters were impossible to give up and 3000 miles is too far to go for brunch (often, anyway).

While I have not (yet) bought a pressure cooker (at this point, probably just a matter of research and therefore time), I've cooked beans in the crock pot and beans on the stove (haven't yet tried the oven, altho I've heard good things). I stumbled across epazote and that's pretty good stuff, altho I personally think (after last night's black beans) that kombu is better. OTOH, it may just be a matter of cooking the beans long enough.

One might think that all dry beans are created equal, but I'm here to tell you that recent crop organic dry beans can't legitimately be compared to some-aged-crop dry beans that have been kicking around on the shelf for who knows how long. Probably all more or less good for you (especially compared to what you might be eating), but still. The fresher ones cook faster, plump up better, look nicer and taste better. You can buy organic or regular dry beans in bulk online and the shipping isn't even all that crazy.

I wanted a bean cookbook, because the recipes I was seeing in general cookbooks were a little repetitive, particularly in the types of beans (and for whatever reason, they didn't use a lot of black eyed peas, which I love. And now have a 25 pound bag of. I could just keep making those fritters, but I'd like to branch out). There aren't very many bean cookbooks out there (like, maybe three. If you think you've found more, several are probably the same book by Aliza Green under various printings/titles). This is somewhat amazing, considering how many whole grains cookbooks are available -- even one by Betty Crocker.

I'd like to take a moment and just contemplate the post-Atkins landscape: it includes a whole grains cookbook with the Betty Crocker brand on it.

Some years ago, I got curious as to what would happen if we all woke up one morning and started eating the way the food pyramid said we should eat. My first question was, is there enough of the right kinds of foods for us to do that? I never got past that, to things like, would we be healthier, because _there isn't_. Contemplate that for a while. The USDA and everyone (except Atkins, South Beach, etc.) is basically producing advice for us to eat in a way that's totally incompatible with the food supply. And we wonder why that advice isn't working. Duh.

In thinking about beans, I thought, how many beans are available for people to eat in the US? About 6 pounds. Assuming that's dry weight, and assuming a serving size of 1/2 cup cooked, that's about 36 servings. Not really enough to have any real impact, hunh? There's a guy at the University of Kentucky whose done a bunch of research on various diets (let's just say: not a fan of Atkins) who fed some men 1 1/2 cups of beans a day for three weeks. Their cholesterol dropped by 19%. While there was certainly some replace-something-else effect, for the most part, the rest of their food pattern was left intact. That's really a helluva result, considering how many people are taking statins because changes to their eating patterns were ineffective.

Not too long ago, some researchers put together the "portfolio diet" to try to reduce cholesterol through dietary changes. They proposed 4 changes: swap meat for soy (not beans in general, probably because soy "products" are "convenience" foods and because soy is a "complete" protein on its own, unlike other beans), get lots of fiber (psyllium drinks, oat bran, okra, eggplant), plant sterols (think Benecol and the like instead of butter and margarine), and nuts. About a third of their participants got about a 20% reduction in cholesterol starting at about 2 weeks. Another third saw a 15% reduction. The rest didn't get much out of it, possibly because of non-compliance. Depending on who you talk to, this is either a simple swap in an ordinary diet, or an incredibly onerous, near vegan undertaking.

Given what Anderson saw by just adding 1 - 1 1/2 cups of beans to an otherwise unmodified diet, ya gotta wonder why that sucker doesn't work better than it does.

There will be more in further posts. Trust me. ;-)
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