The New Veganism

The Mighty Bean

By • January 24, 2013 • 7 Comments

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Gena Hamshaw of the blog Choosing Raw eats a mostly raw, vegan diet without losing time, money, or her sanity. Let her show you how to make "rabbit food" taste delicious and satisfying every other Thursday on Food52.

Today: Gena shares tips for cooking beans, and a recipe for a hearty vegan chili. 

Vegan Chili

Legumes are my favorite source of protein.  In addition to their high protein content, beans are also good sources of iron, which can be tricky to obtain easily on a vegan diet. 

But here’s the thing about beans: a lot of people are scared of them, because…well, you know the old adage. 

The problem is actually a starch (oligosaccharide, if we’re getting technical)  in legumes for which we have a limited digestive enzyme. We can build up more of the enzyme, though, by eating beans more regularly. Given how healthy they are, it’s in our best interest to do just that. In addition, we can make beans more digestible by using certain tricks of the trade. Here are some of my favorites.

Dried Beans

Soak your beans before cooking. Making beans from scratch is cheap, easy, and eliminates any unsavory BPA from canning. Soaking the beans is an essential part of the cooking process. It reduces cooking time and it also helps to release the oligosaccharides that can cause us stomach discomfort. You can either do a “quick soak” or a “long soak.”

For a quick soak, rinse and pick over your beans, cover them with water (1 part beans: 3 parts water) and boil them for five minutes. Let them sit for an hour after, and then cook through.

For a long soak, pick over and clean beans, cover them in water (1 part beans : 3 parts water) and then let them soak 8 hours, or overnight. Drain and change water before cooking through. For most beans, this will mean about an hour of simmering. 

Cook beans with a strip of kombu. I used to wonder why people did this, until I was told that kombu actually contains some of the enzyme we need to digest beans. Cooking beans with kombu is standard in macrobiotic cooking, and many believe that it can make a big difference. 

Spice things up. In traditional Indian cooking, spices are thought to improve the digestibility of legumes, perhaps by lending some of their own enzymes to the cooking process. Indian spices used in bean preparation include ginger, turmeric, fennel and asafoetida. Adding a strip of ginger to your cooking liquid is a great idea.

Add beans to your soup. The broth and liquid will first absorb, and then cook off, some of the resistant oligosaccharides, which may help you to digest the beans.

A drop of acid never hurts. Once beans are already tender, add some acid to them (vinegar, lemon, etc.). It will both increase digestibility and also help to make the nutrients in the beans more bioavailable.

Always rinse. If you do use canned beans, be sure to rinse them thoroughly. Hey, we all need a shortcut now and then. When I’m really in a pinch, I love using beans from Eden Organic, which have been prepared with kombu and come in BPA free cans. Remember, though, to rinse the beans thoroughly to remove some of the unwanted starch and sodium in the canning liquid. 

Two final tips: if you’re just getting into legumes as a home cook, increase your consumption gradually. Your system will build up the enzymes you need, but it’s best to add beans to your diet in increments. And if you have a hard time with them, you may want to try rounding them out with quinoa, rice, or barley (or any whole grain you love) -- some claim that beans are easier to digest when paired with other proteins that “complete” the protein profile for a meal.

For example, you can serve the following black bean and sweet potato chili, which is smoky, spicy, and basically divine, over some brown rice. If you’re having people over for a certain Sunday football game this year, I challenge you to give this recipe a shot. It’s easy and delicious, and it’ll knock the socks off any guest -- vegan, omni, and everyone in between.

Vegan Chili

Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

Serves 6

1 1/2 cup dried black beans
4 cups sweet potato, diced into 3/4 inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chopped white or yellow onion (about one medium to large onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 chipotle pepper en adobo, chopped finely
2 teaspoons cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ground chili powder

1 14 or 15 ounce can of diced tomatoes
2 cups vegetable broth (and more as needed)
sea salt to taste
1/4 cup chives, snipped into small pieces
1 large Haas avocado

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

For more on cooking dried beans, check out this article.

Photos by James Ransom

Jump to Comments (7)

Tags: the new veganism, vegan, veganism, chili, beans, cooking beans, gena hamshaw, special diets

Comments (7)

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Stringio

over 1 year ago adele93

do the 4 cups of sweet potato translate to 1 kg?

Caribou_too

over 1 year ago VegaKnight

Hmm. Do I apply these same concepts to commercial, bagged Goya Adobo black beans? Curious, because the instructions labelled on the bag indicates an very short cook time (10-30 minutes). Is there some commercial process that affect their cook time?

6-14-4_053

over 1 year ago thirteenJ

simmer til tender?

6-14-4_053

over 1 year ago thirteenJ

A pressure cooker makes short work of cooking dry beans.
After an overnight or workday soak, my stove top Presto
has beans cooked in 2 minutes(Great Northern)to 7 minutes(Chick Peas) minutes after it reaches pressure! What flavor!!

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over 1 year ago prasanna

Some time simple ( Without spice)recipes also work better, i used to add some recipes on my blog "http://marathi-unlimited... " without spice. try it. here on http://food52.com recipes are very good.

Open-uri20130124-20421-htozwi-0

over 1 year ago Jennifer Killi Marshall

This is simmering on my stovetop right now and the house smells amazing! Cannot wait to serve this to my family tonight. Thank you for an easy, healthy recipe. :)

Kg_in_evanston_cropped

over 1 year ago Fairmount_market

To elaborate: the sources of enzymes that break down most plant oligosaccharides are the microbes resident in one's digestive tract. By increasing one's intake of these oligosaccharides, one can expand the representation and diversity of microbes competent to process these compounds. Here's a video about this topic: http://ed.ted.com/lessons...