The most promoted superfoods usually have a fabulous nutritional profile, and an exotic pedigree. However, there are everyday superfoods that also deserve your culinary attention. They’re not only healthy, but cheap too.
Consider the humble bean. For thousands of years, beans and other legumes have sustained many civilizations. Today, they are more likely to be the subject of a flatulent punchline than a meal.
What happened? Why does the modern American menu—except for an occasional side of the Boston baked variety— neglect beans?
It’s not for a lack of nutrients. Beans provide a hearty dose of low fat protein, slow burning carbohydrates, and are excellent sources of fiber, magnesium, and potassium. These nutrients have shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and encourage weight loss.
True, beans have earned a reputation for gas. Complex sugars found in beans require special enzymes for digestion which your body may lack if you rarely consume legumes. But take heart, these enzymes are replenished with regular bean consumption. In general, the more often you eat beans the better your system can tolerate them.
If you rarely touch beans, start slow with either pinto or adzuki beans, which are some of the gentlest to digest. Some beans can be sprouted or fermented to be even easier on the gut.
Another aspect contributing to the gas factor is poor preparation. If dry beans aren’t properly soaked before cooking or are undercooked they can be much harder to assimilate. Cultures that feast heavily on beans also address gaseous tendencies with the addition of digestive herbs, such as bay leaf, cumin, epazote, ginger, and thyme.
Dry Vs. Canned
Another stumbling block with beans is that they require at least a day of forethought. Dry beans are most digestible if soaked overnight and cooked for two hours, or more, although time can be cut substantially with a pressure cooker.
Canned beans are a convenient alternative to dry. Unlike vegetables, beans lose few nutrients in the canning process, and unlike dry beans they always come out perfect. If you choose the canned route, consider a company that does not use the synthetic estrogen Bisphenol A (BPA) in their packaging.
If you decide on dry beans, figure about half the weight of canned for a recipe replacement. Also consider the addition of a kombu seaweed strip in the cooking water. It gives no discernable flavor but it will help soften beans faster and add valuable nutrients.
Greens are also humble, but due to the current kale craze they tend to get much more respect.
Several varieties of greens hail from the cruciferous family of vegetables, which are known for their liver detoxification and anti-cancer properties. These include kale, collards, mustard greens, and bok choy. They are good sources of vitamins A, C, K, antioxidants, and are also mineral rich, featuring healthy doses of iron, potassium, selenium, and zinc.
Unlike salad greens, cruciferous greens work much better as a cooked vegetable. Tough and bitter when raw, cruciferous greens are best served hot and tender with lemon, olive oil, and sautéed garlic.
Other familiar greens come from the chenopod family, such as spinach and Swiss chard. In addition to vitamins and iron, they contain antioxidants beneficial to eye health. These are more delicate than the cruciferous greens, and don’t need to be cooked as long.
Most greens play well with other foods. Toss a handful of spinach into your soup and you’ve added an extra vegetable to your daily intake without a lot of bulk.
If you’re looking for an adventure, try a wild green, such as goosefoot (also a member of the chenopod family) or stinging nettles which is packed with protein and iron. Wild greens have other valuable nutrients not found in their cultivated cousins. Harvest young, before they go to seed.
Italian White Beans with Kale
This recipe features cannellini beans, also known as white kidney beans. Cannellinis are slightly larger than navy and great northern, but all white beans are good sources of calcium, help stabilize blood sugar, and protect against insulin resistance. Kale brings a high concentration of antioxidants to the party.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion chopped
1 shallot chopped
8 cloves of garlic sliced
1 bunch of kale chopped, discard ribs
8 to 10 sprigs of fresh thyme, stripped of leaves. Discard stems.
2 bay leaves
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ cup water
2 15oz cans of cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
fresh ground black pepper to taste
½ teaspoon umeboshi plum vinegar (optional)
In a large covered pot, sauté onion, garlic, and shallot in oil until transparent. Turn heat to medium, and add water, salt, kale, bay, and thyme leaves. Cook covered until greens are soft, stirring occasionally. Turn down heat, add beans and pepper and cook another few minutes. Remove bay leaves and add umeboshi vinegar before serving.
The chickpea (or garbanzo in Spanish) is a versatile bean eaten throughout the world. Most chickpeas are pale yellow; a variety from India is small and black. While chickpeas can irritate some people with intestinal problems, regular consumption may prevent colon disease. Chickpeas contain an impressive array of antioxidants, and are prized for their high iron content. Combined with spinach, this makes for a particularly iron rich meal.
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 large onion
3 to 5 cloves of garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1 large tomato chopped
12 oz of fresh spinach, cleaned and chopped
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
red pepper flakes to taste
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup water
2 15oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
½ cup cilantro chopped
Juice of one lime
In a large skillet sauté onion, garlic, ginger, and cumin seeds in olive oil until onions are transparent. Stir in spice powers, salt and pepper flakes and cook for another minute. Next add tomato and spinach and cook until vegetables are soft and combined. Add water and chickpeas. Stir to combine and simmer on med-low for 20 to 30 minutes or until most of the liquid evaporates. Turn off heat and mix in chopped cilantro and lime juice. Serve with a dollop of plain yogurt and cumin-scented basmati rice.
Glazed Tempeh with Bok Choy
Soy is a controversial bean. Some nutritionists champion its phytoestrogen and protein content (soy is the only bean with more protein than carbs), while others say that regular consumption is problematic due to soy isolate and high amounts of phytic acid. You can avoid some of the soy concerns by choosing a fermented variety, such as miso or tempeh—a firm and nutty soy cake from Indonesia.
The most important consideration when buying any soy product is genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Nearly all soy grown in the United States is genetically engineered to resist pesticides, so unless the package says organic or non-GMO, leave it on the shelf.
Bok choy is a mild vegetable with an alluring crunch, so don’t cook it as long as you would other cruciferous greens.
1 tablespoon peanut butter
1 teaspoon of each:
hemp or flax seed oil
toasted sesame seeds
1 tablespoon of olive oil
15oz block of tempeh cut into ¼ inch sticks
salt to taste
1 teaspoon of olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 bunch bok choy, chopped. Discard bottom. Separate green tops and white stems
salt and pepper to taste
In a small bowl, mix hemp oil, soy sauce, honey, nut butter, ginger, and water until combined. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil to med-high and fry tempeh sticks until golden brown on both sides. Remove from pan, toss in glaze sauce, and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
In the same pan, turn down heat to medium, and heat 1 teaspoon of oil and add sliced garlic. Cook until it starts to brown, and add white bok choy pieces, salt and pepper. Before white pieces lose their crunch, add greens and cook until wilted. Serve immediately.