Simply food



English baked beans on toast

Keeping the vegetarian, trending vegan, in the household happy is a strain for an avowed carnivore, but beans are an excellent source of protein and fibre and should work. However, they have an unwanted side effect.

I like beans, especially English style baked beans, which we consumed as starving youngsters, heated up on a primitive stove in our shared studies at Oundle School, and served piping hot on toast. In those days, so-called public schools in England seemed to feel that boys should be exercised frequently and fed just enough to keep naughty teenaged thoughts at bay.

Baked beans aren’t in fact baked, but stewed, in tomato sauce and are actually haricot beans. They are also an essential side in a Full English Breakfast. If the baked beans created extra flatulence in schoolboys, no one mentioned it. Or perhaps it wasn’t noticed in the general odour of unwashed boys and dirty gym socks.

There’s a good little ditty which gets to the heart of the problem:

Beans, beans, good for the heart;
The more you eat the more you fart.
The more you fart the better you feel,
So let’s have beans for every meal.

Kidney beans are a kidney-shaped variety of the common bean and the dark red ones are a key ingredient of chili con carne, another of my favourite recipes. The veggie variant is chili sin carne, where hamburger-like ground soy substitutes its meaty texture. Both recipes can be found in my online publication Market to Table: The Cookbook. White kidney beans are another common variety.

Black eyed peas are a sub species of the cowpea and used in several traditional dishes in the Southern US, as well as India and Indonesia, where it is often a component of daal or curry and the Caribbean, where it is found in the ubiquitous peas and rice dish.

Romano beans are a species of flat bean, like snap beans or snow peas, best eaten freshly cooked in their pods in summer. In winter the dried beans are more common.

Lima beans, also known as butter beans, are an ingredient is many paella recipes in Spain.

There’s one downside to all these popular varieties of bean. They produce copious quantities of gas. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about this, unless we toot loudly in a public place, because we all pass gas between 14 and 22 times a day. Who knew?

Leslie Beck, a nutritionist writing in Canada’s Globe and Mail, explains: “Beans and lentils contain high amounts of complex carbohydrates called oligosaccharides, sugars that the body can’t digest because it lacks the enzyme to break them down in the small intestine. Once these undigested sugars end up in the large intestine, resident bacteria ferment them causing gas that gets released as flatulence. But there is a upside to this fermentation. Much of the undigestible carbohydrates in beans are prebiotic, meaning they fuel the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, microbes thought to aid in immunity and play a role in preventing allergies, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease.”


Simmering six bean casserole with broccoli

Soaking dried beans overnight, between 12 and 24 hours, and then rinsing them thoroughly before simmering them for an hour or so, has several benefits. First, it reduces some of the gas producing sugars. Rinsing and changing the water for fresh half way though the process is even more effective. Rinsing canned beans (unless they are in a sauce) to reduce sugars and salts is also a good idea. Canned beans are quite safe right out of the tin, but some dried beans have another downside. They contain toxic substances such as phytohaemagglutinin, a phytic acid, saponin, oxalate, tannin and trypsin inhibitors. The trick is to cook the beans on high, after a long soak and rinse, before reducing the heat and simmering until tender.

However, the value of various beans and lentils as sources of protein in a vegetarian or vegan diet, cannot be over emphasized. If in doubt about the risks, use canned beans for your recipes. Besides plant protein, they’re exceptional sources of fibre, blood-sugar-regulating magnesium and folate, a B vitamin that makes and repairs DNA in cells. Eating bean-based meals at least four times a week is associated with lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and protection against cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer.

Place dried black eyed peas and Romano beans in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil for 2 to 3 mins. Remove pot from heat and allow to stand for 60 mins. Drain water and replace with fresh, cold and simmer for up to 1 hr hour, or until tender.

Dark red and white kidney beans, chick peas and lima beans must be soaked for 12 to 24 hrs before use, rinsed very well, and cooked on high for the first 30 mins of cooking before simmering for a further 1 hr to 90 mins.

If all this soaking and rinsing seems like too much trouble, simply use one of the many varieties of canned beans and peas that are available, and quite safe. However, if you are or become a dedicated vegetarian, in time you’ll want to make bean recipes from scratch. You’ll find the fresh dried beans have a better texture and are more flavourful than the canned varieties. Store them in cool, dry containers and don’t keep them for more than two years, or they will loose all their beneficial qualities.

So tonight, to keep our vegetarian better half happy, I’m making a casserole with six varieties of beans. And because I haven’t the time or inclination to soak the beans overnight (although, if I’d planned ahead yesterday, I certainly would have made this from scratch), I’m using the easy route of canned beans.


Shopping list

  • 2 x 540 ml / 19 oz cans mixed beans — chick peas, dark red kidney beans, white kidney beans, black eyed peas, romano beans and lima beans
  • 1 x 796 ml / 28 oz can diced tomatoes (no salt added)
  • 1 x 156 ml / 5 ½ oz can tomato paste
  • Small head of broccoli OR cauliflower, broken into spears, OR zucchini OR eggplant, chopped into cubes and pan fried and drained.
  • 2 small yellow onions, peeled and chopped finely
  • 1 whole head of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 sprigs of oregano leaves, rinsed and chopped
  • 4 sprigs of parsley, rinsed and chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation and cooking

  1. In a heavy casserole, sauté the onions in olive oil until they are tender. Add the chopped garlic and fry with the onions for a couple of minutes. If you are taking the option of adding zucchini or eggplant, top and tail the zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and chop into semi-circles. Or top and tail the eggplant, cut into quarters lengthwise, and chop into chunks. Pan fry either until browned. Lift out the zucchini or eggplant and drain on kitchen paper. Set aside and add to the casserole 10 mins before serving.
  2. Rinse the canned beans thoroughly. Add to the onions and garlic in the heavy casserole. Add the can of diced tomatoes. Stir in the can of tomato paste. Simmer at the lowest possible heat for 1 hr, stirring from time to time to ensure the mixture does not burn.
  3. Cut the broccoli or cauliflower into spears and steam for no more than 5 mins. Set aside and add to the bean mixture 10 mins before serving.
  4. Wash the fresh oregano leaves, remove from the stems and chop into strips and add to the casserole 10 mins before serving.
  5. Plate the casserole into large soup dishes. Garnish with chopped parsley and a good sprinkle of grated Cheddar cheese. Serve at once. Even better heated up the next day.

Featured image by vicki4net from Pixabay

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