Beans, magic beans

13 Feb

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“If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hoper, a prayer, a magic-bean-buyer. If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire, for we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!” – Shel Silverstein

Beans, otherwise known as legumes or pulses, are essentially single seeds that produce a plant that forms a pod that grows and protects not one, but two or more seeds. That seems pretty magical to me.

As I sat down to write I asked my daughter what she thinks about beans. Her response, simple and immediate: They’re good!

Lucky for us not only are beans great for sinking hands into, for counting and making colorful patterns, but they are great for our body. They nourish the blood, help rid us of phlegm and water retention, they are full of minerals like calcium and iron, high in protein, thiamin and fiber, and low in fat. Because beans store starch in their pods, they offer lasting energy that is great for maintaining even blood sugar. Soybeans and peanuts however, store oil instead of starch. Did you know peanuts were beans?

Although they may have changed in size and shape, the beans we eat today are pretty much the same beans enjoyed by our ancestors 7000+ years ago. Beans have been indispensable to our evolution, as they can be stored for up to two years.

Beans either grow in clusters on bushes, or they grow as vines spiraling their stalks up around poles or other supporting structures. There are exceptions of course – Jacks’ giant beanstalk was sturdy enough to reach the clouds without support. His beans were definitely of the magical variety.

We can enjoy beans at three different stages of their development. When they are young we can eat them and their pods as we do with snap peas and string beans. We can eat them while they are still tender just before maturation like we do with butter beans in the summer. Once they are mature, harvested and dried, we can soak and cook them up as we do with black beans, adzuki, pinto, navy, garbanzo, mung, etc.

Beans combined with grains like rice, corn and millet make a delicious complete protein. They make great soup and chili. They are perfect on salad, pureed into a dip or baked in the oven. We can sprout beans to get more chlorophyll and crunch but then watch out, for sprouting beans are indeed magical! Begin with a half-cup of dried beans and end up with 2+ cups of sprouts.

Beans often get a bad rap for being hard to digest, but there are tricks to making them easier to enjoy. Soak them overnight and toss the soaking water. Cook them long enough (and do not add salt too soon or they never get soft). Cook them with algae like kelp, or with bay leaves to help break down the starchy cell walls. Sprout them slightly before cooking them -this also boosts nutrition. And of course, chew well! This makes all the difference in the world.

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