One of the many Oshogatsu food rituals calls for kuromame or black beans that have been
simmered in water, sugar and shoyu though individual family recipes may also call for the
addition of konbu, kuri or various liquors. Due to time constraints during the busy holiday
season, these kuromame may come straight from a can purchased at the local Japanese market
or for purists who don’t mind spending the extra time, these black soybeans may have been
soaked, boiled and simmered over a period of several days. Consuming the kuromame during
Oshogatsu reputedly ensures virtuous work and good health over the ensuing year. I’ll admit
that I’m part of the former who usually partakes in the canned variety so I am lacking in the
traditional department. However, any bean consumption is not lacking in the nutrition
department.
Nutritionally speaking, any mame or bean usually ensures health due to it’s abundance of
soluble fiber, complex carbohydrates and B vitamins and due to it’s fiber content, it has a low
glycemic index which means that your blood sugar doesn’t spike as high after a meal. This also
makes beans an excellent addition to a diabetes diet and due to it’s lack of cholesterol and
ability to lower blood cholesterol with it’s soluble fiber, an excellent addition to a low
cholesterol or heart disease diet.


Beans for Life

While kuromame is usually only served during Oshogatsu, we all should incorporate beans as
part of our daily diets. Beans obviously can be used as is in soups, stews and chili (in Hawai’i,
beans aren’t an option for proper chili, they’re mandatory). However, beans can also be mashed
to thicken soups and stews. Because beans contain fair amounts of protein, they can also serve as
binders for vegetarian “meat” loaves and burgers. Since I personally limit my consumption of
animal proteins, I usually fortify my soups and stews with freeze dried bean flakes or dried soy
granules. They don’t change the flavor of the main dish but simply add a low saturated fat,
protein alternative and help thicken the dish. You too should consider reducing red meat and
that other white meat from your diet and replace it with beans!

Bean Hoagie Anyone?

How about switching your standard cold cut sandwich for a refried bean sandwich? Simply
microwave a large can of vegetarian refried beans, add ½ can of chopped olives, 1 can of
chopped, roasted green chilies, 2 tablespoons of your favorite salsa, 2 teaspoons of chili powder
and chopped fresh green onion or cilantro to taste. Spread on whole wheat or whole grained
bread, add a slice of soy-based cheese and you now have a healthy lunch alternative that’s also
very cheap. Since the protein source sells for 50 cents per can, the bread will probably be your
biggest expense – which means you can “splurge” on gourmet bread instead of the tasteless, mass
produced variety. Or if refried beans aren’t your… can of beans, how about adding mashed white
beans to mashed potatoes in equal proportions? They will boost the protein content and lower
the glycemic index at the same time (mashed potatoes alone have a high glycemic index which
increases your insulin requirements after consuming them). Finally, mashed beans also are used
as a fat substitute in baked goods. YES, beans in baked goods! The soluble fiber in beans allows
your baked goods to hold moisture which reduces the need for fat in cakes and muffins and it
also helps these goodies from baking to the consistency of hockey pucks.

The Perfect Party (side dish) Crasher

Beans actually can be added to almost any side dish without being out of place. Add a can of
drained black beans to any salsa to provide “substance” for your favorite salsa. Why not? Both
beans and salsa are found in many Mexican dishes. Or how about a can of beans to your green
chili and cheese cornbread. Once again beans are found in many western dishes. Or white beans
mixed with your favorite tuna salad. Tuna and cannelini beans with a little sage, red onion and
olive oil and vinegar are a Tuscan classic. Beans in any stew? That’s a no brainer, can you say
cassoulet, chili, baked beans, Portuguese bean soup, and ribollita? Just add it to any stew or
soup and it will blend as well as salt and pepper. And don’t forget that old childhood rhyme,
“Bean, beans, good for your heart…”

The Gochiso’s Middle Eastern Bean Stew

I modified this recipe from a vegetarian version of Harira – the traditional Muslim stew that
breaks the period of fasting or Ramadan. I’ve added a variety of grains and modified the spices.
For the textured vegetable protein, there are both dried and frozen varieties that can be found in
both health food stores and supermarkets.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 peeled carrots, quartered lengthwise and chopped to ½ inch
3 stalks of celery, quartered lengthwise and chopped to ½ inch
1 large onion, chopped to ½ inch dice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 can of rinsed and drained garbanzo beans
1 can of rinsed and drained black beans, navy beans or pinto beans
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground turmeric (if no turmeric add 3 tsp curry powder)
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Two 14 ounce cans of peeled, chopped tomatoes with liquid
4 cups of water or vegetable broth (or combination of both)
2 cups of cooked barley
Salt and black pepper to taste
1 cup of dried lentils
¾ cup of textured vegetable protein
½ cup of dried whole wheat spaghetti (or any thin round pasta) broken to ½ inch pieces
1 bunch of fresh chopped parsley (about 1 to 1 & ½ cups)
1 large bunch of fresh chopped cilantro (with stems if you like cilantro like I do)

In a large Dutch oven, sauté carrots, celery, onion and garlic in olive until softened – about 5
minutes. Add beans and spice powders and cook about 3 more minutes. Raise heat and add
tomatoes with liquid, water (or broth), barley and salt/black pepper and bring to boil. Add
lentils and vegetable protein then reduce heat to simmer (with Dutch oven partially covered)
for 20 minutes. Add pasta and simmer for 15 minutes. Add parsley and cilantro and simmer for 5
minutes. If at any time during the cooking process it looks like the stew is too dry, just add 1 to
2 cups of water to “rehydrate”.

From the Tatsumoto clan to you and yours, may 2006 bring you health, spiritual enrichment
and peace. Gochisosama!
Why Stop at Kuromame?