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Spilling the Beans
Beans. We know them well, but as familiar as they are, a huge number of us don’t have a clue what to do with them once we get them home to our kitchens. Give someone a chicken or pound of ground beef and dinner ideas immediately come to mind, but the same does not seem to apply to chickpeas or lentils, particularly in their dry state. It’s amazing that legumes, which have been around for centuries, are still such a mystery even to skilled cooks. The process of soaking and simmering seems daunting, even though it requires less culinary skill than cooking rice or pasta.
The combination of grains and legumes is one of the oldest known culinary pairings, common in cuisines on every continent and arguably the most inexpensive source of protein on the planet. All legumes – beans, chickpeas, peas, and lentils – are high in fibre, protein, and other essential nutrients. They’re low in fat, cholesterol-free, versatile, environmentally friendly, and cheap. They could very well be the world’s most perfect food.
With a long shelf life (whether dry or canned), beans are the ultimate in healthy convenience food. And as people come to recognize the environmental impact of meat (a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that global livestock production is responsible for one-fifth of all greenhouse gases—more than transportation), beans have become a more environmentally savvy choice for those fighting climate change at mealtimes. A sustainable crop that’s easy and inexpensive to grow and store, legumes naturally fix nitrogen in the soil, improving its fertility and reducing fertilizer costs for farmers.
As two omnivorous home cooks interested in incorporating more beans into our diets for these very reasons, we consulted each other for inspiration. We both love to spend time in the kitchen (together, whenever possible), love good food, and tend to use meat in smaller quantities, more as a condiment than the main event. Once we delved into the world of beans and learned what could be done with them, we decided to become their cheering section, to familiarize the not-so-bean-savvy with the lowly legume, and ultimately help restore its place on the dinner
Beans (and their good buddies, whole grains) of all kinds are good for your body, your schedule, your pocketbook, and the environment. So let’s eat!
Julie Van Rosendaal is in high demand for her knowledge and love of good food. She is the host of “The Calgary Eyeopener” on CBC Radio One, co-host of TV’s “It’s Just Food” and a regular contributor to many newspapers and magazines. She is known for her expertise in making health-conscious versions of high-fat foods. She currently lives in Calgary, Alberta. Sue Duncan grew up in Calgary, cooking and eating at every opportunity with her best friend Julie. She now lives with her husband and daughter in the Okanagan Valley, where she acquires far too much produce at the farmers’ market but manages to eat it all anyway. Reprinted with permission from “Spilling the Beans” by Julie Van Rosendaal & Sue Duncan. ©2011 Whitecap Books. www.whitecap.ca