“That is the question. Whether tis nobler to suffer the pains and pressure brought on by navy or
kidney bean or to oppose them and continue a meat-rich diet and in opposing them, to die, to
sleep from…cardiac disease.” Okay, so maybe Shakespeare didn’t exactly phrase it that way but I
have it on good authority that Hamlet’s younger brother, Hambone, makes an excellent stock for
simmering pinto, navy or kidney beans. What we’re talking about here is the noble but often
overlooked legume family.
Think about it, beans have been immortalized in our culture. Remember the kiddie rhyme, “Beans,
beans, good for your heart…” This magical fruit is a nutrient-packed wonder food that contains a
plethora of vitamins, fiber and protein. As the egg has all the makings’ for a future chicken, so too
does the bean. It is a turbocharged source of energy just waiting to sprout.
From this simple seed, Jack was able to ascend to the heavens to rescue the magic harp and slay
the giant. Well, most beans won’t grow to those proportions but it none the less provides enough
nutrients that a cup a day may keep the doctor away.
For starters, beans are an excellent source of protein. Combined with other grains, sesame and rice,
it provides a complete protein that rivals those found in animal sources without any of that nasty
cholesterol and it’s very low in saturated fat. It’s also a good source of soluble fiber. A half cup
serving has anywhere from 1 to 3 grams of soluble fiber – the type of fiber that’s been shown to
lower serum cholesterol.
Because of this fiber coating encasing the bean and within its core, the starches in beans don’t
cause that sudden rise in blood sugar right after meals. Therefore, if you suffer from heart disease,
high cholesterol or diabetes, beans may be the perfect prescription for you. If you’re lucky enough
to have avoided those afflictions, beans just make darn tasty everyday fare.
As a culture, the Japanese do consume a regular lion’s share of beans. However, this is usually
limited to soy, kuromame and azuki. The legume family has so much more to offer. There are
pintos, white, brown, black, turtle, kidney, navy, lima, cannelini and garbanzo. This doesn’t even
include the lentil family with its brown, yellow, green and orange varieties. And who can forget
Dr. Hannibal Lecter with his fava beans and Chianti?
Beans can be enjoyed as is simply steamed and salted, enjoyed with your favorite beverage like
complimentary soybeans served at your favorite watering hole. Or they can be mashed with olive
oil, garlic and spices as in refried beans or combined with tahini, garlic and lemon juice in
hummus. If you prefer the sweeter preparations, add sugar and konbu to black beans and you now
have the New Years kuromame. Sugar and water added to azuki make tsubushian or koshian.
Finally, extract just the essential bean proteins via calcium chloride precipitation and you know
have tofu or dry these bean proteins to make textured vegetable proteins found in a wide range of
As an added health benefit, like most proteins in the legume family, bean protein is usually
limiting in the amino acid methionine. Methionine metabolized in the human body forms
homocysteine. I’m sure we’ve all heard or read about the correlation between elevated
homocysteine and coronary heart disease. Therefore, if you consume more bean protein instead of
animal protein, you have less methionine. Less methionine means less homocysteine produced
which means lower serum homocysteine levels. This may all translate to a lower risk for coronary
heart disease. So beans may be the magical fruit after all.
But Ryan, beans tend to…ahem, also be the musical fruit. Is there anything that can prevent
Beethovan’s Fifth about two to three hours after the meal? Without beating around the bush any
longer, the gassiness that a large bowl of Navy bean seems to produce stems from certain sugars
found in beans that our bodies can’t digest. These verbascoses, raffinoses and stachyoses are
subsequently digested by bacteria in our intestinal tracts and produce the “musical” side effects of
Discarding the water used to soak beans helps to eliminate some of these sugars. Rinsing canned
beans in a colander not only rinses away a lot of these sugars but also rinses off unwanted salt.
Some cooks feel that soaking and cooking dried beans in a little vinegar helps to break down these
sugars or that adding yeast to the soaking water accomplishes the same.
In any case, I feel that the tastiness and overall health benefits of the legume outweighs any minor
musical effects. For a fast and easy way to add beans to your diet, try my Not-Baked Baked Beans.
Ryan’s Seven Bean Not-Baked Baked Beans
1 can each kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, cannelini beans, garbanzo beans and pinquito
2 cans vegetarian or pork-n-beans (save liquid from vegetarian or pork-n-beans)
2 cans chopped tomatoes
1 each green, red, yellow and orange bell peppers, chopped to bite sized pieces
1 large red onion, chopped to bite sized pieces
1 clove chopped garlic
2 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp yellow mustard
¼ cup or 4 heaping tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp olive or canola oil
Heat oil in a five-quart Dutch oven and add onion, garlic and chopped peppers and saute until
vegetables are softened, about two minutes. Add rinsed beans, tomatoes, chili powder, mustard,
brown sugar and liquid from vegetarian or pork-n-beans. Simmer until vegetables are soft and
liquid has thickened, about 10 to l5 minutes. Add water if sauce gets too thick. Variations to this
recipe can include one or two cans chopped, roasted green chilis, one can minced olives or even
one or two heaping tbsp chopped sun dried tomatoes. You can even bake the whole recipe for
authentic baked beans.
Experiment with your own combination of beans and just remember, the symphony produced
after dinner is just your appreciation for the cook!
To Bean, Or Not to Bean