Bean Stew

As we move into the winter months (down here in the Southern Hemisphere), our bodies begin to crave warm, hearty meals; meals that get that fire in the belly burning nice and hot to keep us warm and keep our digestion happening.  While super nutritious and yummy, foods like salads and sprouts play a lesser role in my diet during winter than summer.  According to Chinese medicine, Ayurveda and, most importantly, my metabolism, these foods have a cooling effect on the body and don’t provide the necessary fuel for my internal fire that I find I can get from equally wholesome, more warming foods such as soups and stews.

One of my favourite wintertime meals is a good bean stew.  Prepared properly and with love, a hearty bean stew provides the system with all sorts of goodness including proteins, complex carbohydrates, and a funky type of dietary fibre that is not available from many foods except pulses or legumes (lentils, beans etc.)… Not to mention the satisfying feeling of a warm, full belly.

pinto bean stew with brown rice, sourdough pancake, fresh yoghurt, tomato chilli pickle and fresh herbs from the garden

When making a bean stew, it’s important to prepare your beans properly so digestion inhibitors (those compounds that are the cause of post-bean belly aches and bean fart jokes) are removed.  If you’re short on time or are rather spontaneous with your stews and use tinned beans (no added anythings, of course), rinse them really well under fresh water until it runs clear and all the goop washes off.  If you enjoy the whole process and like to know

pinto beans - soaked for 12 hours and rinsed in filtered water
pinto beans – soaked for 12 hours and rinsed in filtered water

exactly what happens to your beans before you eat them (like me), and therefore use dried beans, this stage is all about soaking.  Although somewhat variable, a general rule is to soak pulses for 12 hours or overnight in about four parts water to one part beans.  Change the water once or twice during the soaking process, and rinse well at the end.  Softer legumes like lentils and dried peas require a shorter soaking time, while things like soybeans, black beans and chickpeas require longer.  Write a comment on this post if you want more specific soaking times for a particular type of legume.  Regardless of the soaking time required, the result is the same: water soluble digestion inhibitors such as phytic acid are removed from the seeds, making them more digestible and their nutritious bits more available to our systems.

The next step in preparation of your pulses is cooking.  Good soaking practices significantly reduce necessary cooking times, saving you electricity, gas, or firewood, but most beans still take quite a while to cook.  My biggest piece of advice is to invest in a good stainless steel pressure cooker… if you keep an eye out, these turn up every now and then at second hand stores, and are one of the best kitchen inventions for cooked foods, in my opinion.  You can even take your pressure cooker camping and put it on the fire for wonderful outdoor culinary creations.  If you don’t have a pressure cooker, never fear, bean stews are still definitely within your capability, they’ll just take a bit longer to prepare.  Each type of legume has a slightly different cooking time, so if you’re using a pressure cooker have a look on the internet first to determine the best cooking time, or if you’re cooking conventionally just test the beans during cooking until they’re as soft as you want them to be.  To make the nutrients in your beans even more readily available to your body, cook them with a couple of sticks of dried kelp or kombu seaweed, soaked in water for a few hours.  These contain certain compounds that further enhance digestibility of pulses.

Once your beans are soaked and cooked so they’re soft, here’s how to turn them into a delicious, wholesome stew:

  1. ginger, russian garlic, cumin seeds and a pocket sized grater
    ginger, russian garlic, cumin seeds and a pocket sized grater

    Heat oil (ideally something stable like coconut oil, rice bran oil or ghee) over a medium temperature.  Gently fry a tablespoon or two of whole cumin seeds (cumin also helps with the digestion of beans) and some chopped fresh or dried chillies until they smell great.  Add generous portions of onion, garlic and ginger, and fry until soft.

  2. Add spices etc. to the pot of cooked beans, stirring over a low heat as you combine all the flavours together.  At this point you can add tinned tomatoes (make sure you get good ones without loads of extra salt, preservatives etc.) or chopped fresh tomatoes if you want a tomato-y stew.
  3. fresh greens - blue kale and broccoli stems
    fresh greens

    Pulses combine best with green vegetables, or at least non-starchy vegetables, so adding a good quantity of fresh greens like kale or broccoli, and things like carrots and pumpkin is a great idea!  Chop them up and stir them through the bean mix, simmering gently until they’re cooked.

  4. Add salt.  Do this right at the end so it doesn’t interfere with the process of cooking the beans.  Unbleached Australian sea salt, organic miso, or tamari are great options for saltiness.
  5. Serve!  Bean stew is great on its own, with cooked whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa, topped with yoghurt and/or avocado, scooped up with the fingers using tangy sourdough pancakes, or with a side of sauerkraut and alfalfa sprouts.

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