I grew up with my parents calling beans 'the musical fruit' (the more you eat, the more you toot). The only beans we ate were canned pork 'n' beans (with wieners) and a few canned kidney beans in chili con carne, which my sister promptly picked out.

I've been advised against serving too many vegetarian meals based on beans at retreats, because people complain that eating beans causes gas. Pooh. You can't live on tofu – and what do people think tofu is made from? The most indigestible, allergenic bean of all, soy! I used to cook soy beans and grind them to make veggie burgers back in the seventies.

There is nothing worse for flatulence than undercooked soy beans, and they take forever to cook. There is tempeh, if you like it and you feel you must eat something chewy like meat. But it's expensive.

And have you ever tried dried Texturized Vegetable Protein (TVP)? I've put it in tomato pasta sauce to approximate meat and it tastes like dog food! I know those Asian restaurants that serve realistic fake meat do a pretty good job of capturing the texture, but that stuff is equivalent to hot dogs and bologna in its amount of processing. So, let's just fugeddaboudit. 


So, don't come to me complaining that you can't eat beans, unless you're allergic. (See Obstacles) We eat beans here. We fart sometimes. I described my semi retirement two ways: (1) Not selling all my time; and (2) Eating beans. Dan at Saltspring Seeds says if you change the soaking water a few times, you can reduce the flatulence factor. And a reader, Larry Gambone, said "I started using the Mexican herb epizote in my beans a couple of years ago and never suffer gas discomfort. It also adds to the flavour. You just need a couple of leaves of epizote with a cup of dried beans because it is otherwise very strong."


Hear's a reader with what I take as the final word on salting beans before or after cooking:
"About the salt — I know it is thought that salt toughens the beans. In my experience that is not the case. I read a long article on bean cooking on the Fine Cooking site a number of years ago, and they said that it was sugar that toughened beans during cooking. I’ve experimented a bit and this definitely seems to be true. So I don’t add anything with any sugar — no tomatoes or tomato paste for instance — while I cook the beans. I do sometimes do a baked-bean type dish, and add tomato and molasses and such after the beans are cooked."


I like the legumes that various peasant groups thrive on. What's good enough for large, poor populations to eat every day is good enough for me. The chick peas and red lentils of the middle east and India, the black beans of Cuba, the pinto beans of Mexico, the kidney beans of ... Texas? When I was eating many meals a month in roadhouse-style restaurants, I found there were a number of tasty vegetarian alternatives available and they must have been popular, because they kept popping up on menus. That's why I thought it was a paranoid assumption that people will refuse to eat beans.

I was introduced to falafel at the Tel-Aviv Restaurant on Spadina Avenue in Toronto in 1971. For decades I tried and failed to make those balls successfully. The closest I came was my first try, when I used a crank-turned cast metal meat grinder to crush dry chick peas. I added the dust to water and made balls, which I deep fried in a small pot of oil. There are a zillion recipes online and I never found a good one. Then I discovered $1.49 boxes of Cedar falafel mix on the top shelf above the Rice-a-Roni at Loblaws. You just add slightly less cold water than mix, let it sit for an hour and fry. I don't deep-fry, but use a cast iron pan with plenty of oil. There is just no reason to reinvent the wheel here. Falafel mix is all good stuff and it's a great food to have handy when you need the fast equivalent of hot dogs for dinner on the run.

I had black beans for the first time in a Cuban restaurant in Key West in 1979. Every entrée came with saffron rice and black beans. Those were a delicious side dish, just cooked with cumin and salt. Then I had black bean soup, mildly spicy and served with fried polenta, in a tiny Cuban place with four tables in Greenwich Village. Why mess with perfection? Who needs more than one way to eat turtle beans if it's good enough to eat once a week? My soup has lots of veggies pureed and hidden as 'thickness', so it's a whole balanced meal even without biscuits, corn bread, or polenta.

I used canned refried beans for years to make food that tasted something like we had at a family-run food stand in Cancun before it became all glitzy. Now I cook pinto beans and freeze them in their liquid, so they can be mashed for tortillas or just dished over rice as is. Pinto beans form their own slightly thick sauce and have a special flavor that appeals to everyone who loves burritos.

Chick peas are hands-down best in falafel and you could just skip having them in any other form, but they are sort of chicken-like in their adaptability, so worth getting as dry beans and cooking from scratch. I put them whole in quinoa salad for protein and that soft chickeny texture. I make hummus and freeze wads of it (way cheaper than deli hummus!) I put it in curry, kind of the way you get it in Indian restaurants.

If you soak four cups of dry chick peas overnight in at least three times as much water, change the water and boil till tender, you can drain them and freeze them in bags. (A slow cooker works great, with a minimum of attention on your part.) Very handy for throwing into a quick curry or making hummus.

Kidney beans are pretty beefy. They're good in dark, strong-flavored things like chili and my weird beet borscht (Red Stew).

Black (Beluga or French) lentils are kind of hard to find, but I ordered a big sack from Mountain Path through the health food store. We eat 'em weekly. I use a proportion of red lentils in with them because black lentils hold their shape and red ones make a thick, smooth stew. If I do say so myself, it was a stroke of brilliance that made me find a way to have the comfy taste of stuffing without eating white bread soaked in chicken or turkey fat. My black lentil stew is made with
poultry herbs, thyme and sage and bay leaf, served like a sort of hefty gravy over buttery mashed rutabaga, sweet potato and white potato is just plain yummy. It fell flat on guests once when I forgot the veggie bouillon cube in the lentils and it improved by a leap when Andrew got carried away with the butter when he did the mashing.

Red lentils are the one legume I go through the most of. Retreat centers are staffed by people who've spent time in India eating rice and dhal as a staple. I like it as a thick curry over rice with lots of veggies in it, whatever is fresh, including fiddleheads when in season.  It cooks quickly.

The picture below is some of the result of last summer's experiment with growing dry bush beans. In a less comfy future, I've wondered about growing not only fruits and veggies, but our protein foods, too. Here in Ontario we had a record cool rainy summer which is terrible for beans. Dan at Saltspring seeds says you don't have to soak beans you've grown overnight and they don't take nearly so long to boil. Beans from the store may be years old. One of the old-timers nearby told me she remembers always growing dry beans, threshing them by hand in a bucket. So far, having tried twice, I don't think it's worth growing dry bush beans in a back yard garden. It's a field crop.

 
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