Friday, November 11, 2011

The Mighty Bean

Not long ago, I modified a black bean soup recipe and the result was so flavorful I knew I would write about it. My dilemma: what is there to say about black beans? I thought I might write about their nutritional prowess - calculations of fiber, protein, and iron. But I'm reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, and I'm in the midst of his chapters regarding nutrition science's Big Mistake. Science picks apart it's understanding of a food's value into it's nutrient parts, or rather, those nutrient parts of which science is aware. Nutrition scientists haven't always known about antioxidants or omega-6's or good versus bad cholesterol, so it's entirely possible that the bean has magical properties that have yet evaded nutritionists. Let's leave our understanding of the black bean at this: it is good for us.

In the interest of fairness, I will share with you one thing I dislike very much about beans. There are two ways to buy them: in a can (i.e. ready to eat but loaded with sodium) and dried (i.e. a days-long-sanity-robbing effort to re-hydrate). While I firmly believe the process of re-hydrating dried beans of all varieties is deserving of it's own article which I may get to at a later date, my technique is summarized below:
  1. Dump a LOT of beans into a colander. I say "a LOT" because you can freeze beans you're not immediately going to use and the whole process is too much of a pain to go through very often. Rinse them and pick through for stones.
  2. Put the beans in a large bowl, fill the bowl with enough water to cover the beans by 2-3 inches, cover, and set in the fridge. Leave it there at least overnight; I have abandoned beans in the fridge for up to 36 hours with no noticeable ill effects.
  3. Things that would be soft after 36 hours underwater: a potato, a block of parmesan, a dictionary. Not beans! Dump them in the crockpot, fill it with water, and cook on low for 8-10 hours.
  4. The beans are almost soft enough. If you're not going to use them immediately, this is the time to store them in the freezer. Otherwise, a bit more cooking in the destination meal (simmered in a soup, for example) should get them there. 
Aside from this annoyance, I have only praise for the mighty bean.  Beans are good for us. They are filling. They are yummy. Based on a recipe from So Good and Tasty and my own personal preferences for ginger and a lot of garlic, I've concocted a delicious black bean soup to demonstrate why all that soaking and boiling is well worth it.

1 yellow onion
5 garlic cloves
A thumb-size piece of fresh ginger
1 bell pepper
3-4 carrots
3-4 celery stalks
2.5-3 cups of re-hydrated black beans
A good squirt of lemon juice
Some water or homemade stock

1 T ground cumin
2 t ground coriander
1 t paprika
A pinch of chili powder
1 t dried oregano
2 bay leaves

Chop all the veggies. No need to arrange them photogenically. Heat a dollop of oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, celery, carrots, bell pepper, and all the spices into the pot. Stir them around often for about 10 minutes until they have softened a bit.

Add the black beans, lemon juice, and enough stock or water (whichever you are using) to cover the mixture by about 2 inches. Bring it all to a boil, cover, and simmer on low heat until the liquid has reduced to the point of barely covering the beans. This should take about 50 minutes. Check the water level periodically - if it gets low or you want a soupier soup, you can add more.

Get out your immersion blender! Remove the bay leaves (I always forget) and blend.

For more recipes, tips, and anecdotes, check out Fight Back Fridays on Food Renegade.

For even MORE healthy lifestyle ideas and real food cooking, go to Butter Believer Sunday School!


  1. Cool! I love your soaking tips and that recipe looks really good! I wasn't much of a bean person for a long time, but I'm trying to learn... it's such a good way to stretch the food budget. I LOL'd by the way at "no need to arrange them photogenically" -- haha!! It's a different kind of life being a food blogger, huh?

    I'd love for you to come share this post at our new blog carnival, Sunday School! It's up right now if you'd like to come stop by. :)

  2. Thank you so much! Love to hear about any LOL-ing you get from my posts. :) Beans took a while for me, too, and lentils even longer - but you'll get there. I think it's all about the spices, really.

    I'll happily add this to Butter Believer! Looks like a great blog with tons of useful ideas!


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