Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Beans, glorious beans!

Reader Question: Soaking beans and grains
Q: "One of the things that surprised me [on your blog] was your suggestion to add an acidic element to oats and legumes while soaking. (Actually, I didn't even know that oats needed to be soaked!) Would you mind addressing this more thoroughly for me?" -Vanessa A.

A: Great question! All whole grains (with the exception of kasha which is buckwheat groats that have already been toasted) need to be soaked with water and a little acid (whey, yogurt, or lemon juice) in order to neutralize the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors that are naturally present in all forms of seeds; this process also renders them far more nutritious. Nuts should also be soaked in salty water and then toasted (see my blog entries on this), and beans should be soaked and cooked a long time to render them more digestible (some varieties also require a little whey or lemon juice added to the soaking liquid -- more on that below). [Soybeans are a special exception: they should be eaten only after they have been fermented, as in miso, tempeh, and natto. Soaking, sprouting, and cooking do not sufficiently neutralize the potent enzyme inhibitors in soybeans and can lead to reduced protein absorption, digestive problems, and amino acid deficiencies if consumed regularly.]

If you think about it, many of the healthiest things we eat are really seeds! Beans, legumes, nuts, and whole grains are all seeds that will sprout and become plants under the right conditions and provided the seed (which contains a tiny embryo) is still viable. All forms of seeds naturally contain enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid which interfere with digestion to discourage predators. Phytic acid also binds with minerals in the digestive tract and prevents absorption, leading to deficiencies in magnesium, zinc, copper, iron, and calcium over time. As you probably know, some seeds are even toxic and can cause cyanide poisoning. So seeds have a degree of natural protection to keep us from eating them, and to keep them from sprouting under the wrong conditions.

Cooking beans: All dry beans should be soaked and cooked for a long time; of course, fresh is best but it's hard to tell when buying beans in the store. [You can get fresh organic dry beans (and whole grains) from Cayuga Pure Organics at the NYC Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays (or order over the phone).] Lentils, chickpeas, and black beans all require lemon juice, whey, or vinegar added to the soaking liquid: 1 tbsp. per cup of beans. Simply rinse the beans, cover them with warm water in a big bowl, add the acidic medium if necessary, cover with plastic wrap, and leave in a warm place for 24 hours (or longer, if you like). Then drain and rinse the beans and cook in a crockpot or on the stove on very low heat, always making sure the cooking liquid is covering the beans, and skimming off the foam when it first reaches boiling. I recommend using bone broth or stock as the cooking liquid as the gelatin in this makes the protein in the beans go further; it also makes them really delicious! I also add a hand-sized piece of dried kelp when cooking beans for extra iodine, minerals, and the tasty flavor (not fishy, but richer and more complex). Leave this on the top and simply scoop it off if you like when the beans are done if it hasn't melted into the beans (which is fine). I cook beans for about 3-4 hours or until they are very tender (the type and freshness of the beans will impact the cooking time, as well as how long they were soaked). You can add them to salads, soups, stews, rice or potato casseroles, dips, whole grain dishes, fish & meat dishes -- pretty much anything! I generally soak and cook a few different kinds of beans or legumes each week. Then we have them ready to use in our favorite dishes. At our house we love refried beans, mashed and cooked with a little lard from pasture-raised pigs (plus generous dashes of cumin and chili powder, and of course sea salt), and creamy bean dips, blended with sour cream and herbs. A super-quick meal is a baked or boiled potato topped with beans, salsa, and sour cream or cheese. It is worth mentioning that the canning process, which involves high temperatures and pressure, may overly denature the protein in beans and harm other nutrients, so it's best to use dry beans.

Cooking grains: A good rule of thumb for whole grains: soak each cup of whole grain (like quinoa or brown rice) with an equal amount of liquid and 2 tbps. liquid whey, yogurt, or lemon juice. Simply place everything in a bowl, mix, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place at least 7-24 hours or longer (quinoa soaked for 5 days becomes incredibly delicious!). The enzymes, good bacteria, and lactobacilli in the whey, yogurt, or lemon juice serve to begin the breaking-down process for you, rendering the grain delicious, nutritious, and digestible! Simply drain and rinse the grain when you're done and cook as usual, in bone broth or stock if making a savory dish, or with water. Always add some form of fat as well (lard, butter, coconut oil) to further increase the nutritional value.

*Please note: if you buy whole grains that have been rolled or cracked already (such as oats), be sure they are in airtight packages and not taken from a bin. Once the protective coat on each grain has been broken, the precious oil in the grain will have a tendency to go rancid (this doesn't necessarily affect the flavor, but rancid oils are harmful to our bodies). Once you have opened the package or ground the grains yourself, be sure to store them in the refrigerator. Beans can be stored in a cupboard away from light.

Here is a wonderful article on cooking beans:

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