These cold winter days are ideal for spending more time inside preparing meals and perfecting recipes. One of the most versatile foods to experiment with is beans. Dry beans store well and canned beans can be quickly added in a pinch to many of our favorite dishes.
It’s only fitting that our friends at Island Grown Schools (IGS) have selected beans as their featured food for February’s Harvest of the Month. Beans can be incorporated into just about anything, yielding creative comfort foods for now, and light and fresh options for the warmer months.
Beans may sound like an afterthought or a filler food to some, but they’re actually one of our most diverse forms of food, not to mention affordable. Did you know that there are more than 18,000 species of legume plants that yield the vibrant, edible seeds we call beans? On Martha’s Vineyard Morning Glory Farm pumps out some pretty tasty and pleasing varieties. This year they grew Keneally Yellow Eye, a traditional choice for baked beans, and Cranberry Beans, a beautiful tan bean with scarlet freckles famous for storing well. Next year, they’re planning to grow Black Turtle Beans, too.
When you think about it, beans have actually been providing us with nourishment since the beginning of time. We also use them to feed to our animals, so in essence, they’re responsible for even more of our diet than we think about. Plus they have a nitrogen-fixing growth cycle which means they have the unique ability to “fix” nitrogen in the soil, making the soil more fertile once the plants are tilled under. Sounds pretty magical, right? They’re also relatively easy to grow since they’re self-pollinating, they’re resilient since they can hold up to drought and have a long-term shelf life, and their health benefits are lengthy.
“Beans, beans, the magical fruit…” we’ve all heard the catchy nursery rhyme. Even though beans are not the kind of fruit you’re used to, they are the fruits (or seeds) of a family of plants called Fabaceae, and your body loves them. The magical power of beans means they’re high in fiber, folate, protein, iron, potassium, zinc, and manganese. They’re packed with antioxidants which could reduce the risk of cancer and inflammation. They’re also good for your heart health and can contribute to lower cholesterol too. Beans are actually somewhat of a superfood which is why they have been integrated into virtually every cuisine in the world.
With so many variations and benefits adding beans to your diet is a no-brainer. Start by picking up some dry beans and adding them to your favorite dishes. As a reminder dry beans need to be soaked and then boiled. The practice of soaking beans overnight has been debated but you can do a quick soak in boiling water for just a few minutes. Alternatively, canned beans are dried beans that have already been cooked so they’re more convenient but the canning process can omit starches, proteins, and plant solids, which often results in a less potent flavor and texture. If you can cook them yourself we recommend it, the rewards are worth it. Look for these varieties of dry beans: garbanzo (chickpeas), black eyed peas (cowpeas), lentils, navy, lima, pinto, kidney, and black beans. Choose loose, dry beans that have similar size and color and store dry beans in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark place.
In my cookbook Simple Green Suppers with author Susie Middleton, she expresses her love of dried lentils–especially black beluga lentils and green-blue French or du Puy lentils. According to Susie, these little jewels cook up quickly, maintain their shape well, and offer a firm texture and pleasing peppery flavor that marries beautifully with citrusy vinaigrettes, leafy greens, and tangy cheeses. Susie also raves about home-cooked chickpeas and swears by having them around the house to add to your favorite dishes. Plus, unlike other beans, chickpeas can be sautéed and roasted until brown and crisp.
When you’re shopping for canned beans look for ones that are organic with no preservatives, and those that are low in sodium or and in BPA-free cans. While not as robust as dried beans, canned beans are great to have around the pantry. Eden and Westbrae Natural canned brands check all the boxes, and as a reminder always rinse canned beans before using.
When it comes to cooking with beans your options are endless. The most obvious way to incorporate them into your diet is to add them to your soup, salads, dips, and sauces (we recommend curry!). Next time you make a casserole consider using lentil as a meat substitute, or add black beans to your pizza for an unexpected fiber-rich topping. One of the easiest and tastiest ways to get your bean benefits is to make homemade hummus with chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, salt, and herbs.
In Simple Green Suppers Susie devoted a whole chapter to beans, and she offers some pretty simple yet savory recipes including Sugar Snap, Spring Onion and Chickpea Stir-Fry with Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce; White Beans and Artichoke Hearts with Chard, Lemon, Thyme, and Bread Crumbs; Baby Potato, Greens, Garlic and Chickpea Hash; Layered Black Bean, Zucchini, Corn and Avocado Salad; Grill-Roasted Bell Peppers with Lentil Salad and Goat Cheese; Indian Curry with Chickpeas, Cauliflower, Spinach, Tomatoes, and Coconut Milk, and many more. Needless to say, there’s no excuse for leaving them off your plate!
Get started experimenting with the wonderful world of beans with this sweet chickpea recipe from Island Grown Initiative.
Chickpea Flour Cinnamon Maple Crackers
1 cup chickpea flour, sifted
*See below on how to make your own
3 tbsp olive oil
(or avocado oil / melted coconut oil)
4.5 tbsp maple syrup
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 350F. Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix together with a spatula or your hands until well combined and you can form into a dough ball. Dough should be sticky and wet.