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Take peacock meat, for instance, and if you ever tried it you'd say, "take it!" It was hard and dry but upper class Romans purported to love it while they choked on it at the same time.
Beans are the flip side of the coin. They're plentiful. They're cheap. And they're a wonderful protein booster as their amino acids combine with those of grains and rice to form complete proteins, boosting the proteins they already provide.
Given their first two properties — plentiful and cheap — beans are often overlooked, at least by certain, ahem, people.
But given their role in history, we should all regard beans as heroes.
After we humans dropped the hunting/gathering thing in favour of agriculture, beans played a hugely important role. First, early farmers realized that by rotating a planting of legumes like beans or peas in to their grain crop rotations, they increased soil productivity, plus they had an extra nutritional crop. Beans could also be kept and fed to cattle to keep them over winter for cheap.
More meat and more protein through beans literally meant more stamina and more power for people, who became stronger and healthier, leading to the outrageously strong, healthy, long-living humans we are today.
The other heroic thing about beans is the way they can carry a savoury sauce. Curries and piquant salsas were invented to spice up dull old grains, rice and beans.
So if you fancy an exotic pick-me-up with a subtext of sunny places, grab yourself a good bean recipe.
Here are a couple of my favourites from the little New Internationalist cookbook. It used to be available at New Internationalist and Ten Thousand Villages but since has been replaced by their Small Planet Vegetarian Cookbook.
From Ecuador: Menestra de lentejas (lentil stew)
- 1/2 lb. (225 g.) green lentils, cooked
- 2 onions, chopped finely
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tbsp. fresh cilantro leaves chopped
- 1 can tomatoes (I open a large 796 ml./28 oz. can and start with 2/3 of it, adding more tomatoes and liquid as needed)
- Salt and pepper
Heat the oil and sauté the onions for a minute or two before adding the cumin, bell pepper, parley and cilantro. When they are soft and integrated, add the cooked lentils and canned tomatoes and their liquid. Stir well. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer very gently until the stew is thick. Stir occasionally so the lentils don't stick. Add the extra tomatoes, liquid, and/or water as needed. Serves 4 to 6.
From East Africa: Maharagwe (Spiced beans in coconut milk)
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 c. black-eyed or pinto beans, cooked
- 3 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 1/2 tsp. turmeric
- 1 tsp. chili powder
- 1 tbsp. fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped
- 1 1/2 c. coconut milk