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Monday, June 2, 2014

Under Pressure: Black Beans

When living in Spain, I struggled to find cans of beans. As a vegetarian, I usually ate beans a few times a week and after a few months without them, I definitely had a craving for some black beans.

As if by luck, a few days later, I was drawn into our kitchen by the warm aromas of what smelled like black beans
. My new Brazilian roommate was standing over the stove, stirring a large pot of fragrant black beans mixed with root vegetables and peppers, and I found myself salivating. I asked her where she had gotten the beans, expecting to hear some story of how a family member back in Brazil had sent her a care package, but instead, she pointed to the bag sitting on the counter and said the name of the local grocery store.

Don't get me wrong, I had seen dried beans before, but I had never cooked with them, because the process seemed so daunting, and, frankly, I was intimidated. But here was my choice: learn to cook dried beans or live without until I returned to the United States in about a year. The choice was made, and I soon realized that the taste of cooked dried beans far surpassed that of canned beans, and I have never gone back to beans in a can.

And beans are so versatile and delicious! They can be the star ingredient in a hummus, added for a fiber/protein boost in a big salad, or even a super-side-kick in a casserole or baked dish.

So now, whenever I have a hankering for beans, I pull out my pressure cooker and a handful of other ingredients and I make some of the best-tasting beans (and apparently less toxic, given the information below the recipe) with little work on my part; no intimidation here!

NOTE: If you don't have a pressure cooker, The Kitchn has directions for soaking the beans overnight and then cooking for a couple of hours on the stove top. These directions closely resemble what we did in Spain, which admittedly aren't as easy as with a pressure cooker, but still super tasty.

If you do have a stove-top pressure cooker, here's what I do, and I am usually pretty happy with the end result.

Yields about 3 cups of cooked beans.

1c dried black beans
3c vegetable stock*
3 chiles de Arbol
1/4 of medium/large onion
3 sweet mini peppers**
2-3 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
Safflower oil

(*I use the organic Better Than Bouillon Vegetable Base, so it's actually a couple of teaspoons of that mixed with 3c of water
**I used 3 sweet mini peppers today, because I didn't have any carrots or celery; otherwise, I would use 3-4 baby carrots or 1 large carrot and 2-3 stalks of celery)


1. Rinse the beans and then place them in a bowl, covering them with water to soak. They can soak anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight, but know that your time in the pressure cooker will vary the longer you soak them first. (For example, I have soaked them overnight before and only had to cook them in the pressure cooker for 8-10 minutes). Today, I only soaked them for 25 minutes.
All ingredients are ready to go!

2. While beans are soaking, put your stock and all other ingredients, except the oil, into the pressure cooker. If you keep the root vegetables, garlic and onion in larger chunks, it is easier to pull out when you are finished.

All ingredients with oil on top--
ready to close lid!
3. Turn the stove onto high and add the beans, mixing everything together one or two times. Then add  a few tablespoons of oil to sit on top (this is supposed to help with the gas that can sometimes be caused by beans).

4. Put the lid in place and keep on high until the meter tells you that it is cooking on high. Then start the timer for 25 minutes (if only soaked for a brief period of time).

5. Once the timer goes off, remove from heat and let the pressure go down naturally (or do a quick release, if you are planning on adding the beans to a dish that will continue to cook the beans).

6. Be careful when removing the lid (lift it away from your face so any extra steam doesn't burn you). Then try and pick out the root vegetables, onion, and garlic. (Some people keep these things and use them in another dish).

7. Rinse the beans thoroughly (again, this should help keep them from causing gas), and either store them in the fridge/freezer or begin using them in another dish!

What I see when taking the lid off.

Food for thought...
How are beans under pressure in another way?

Did you know that there is now a debate on whether we as humans should even be eating beans? Who knew these cute little legumes could be argued about like soy, dairy, and corn, and beans seem to be touted as perfectly safe by some or a poison by others.

For example, Wellness Mama talks specifically about the dangers of lectin in beans. Wendy Myers, who is the founder of Live to 110, goes into great detail about the dangers of not only lectin, but also canavanine and copper on our bodies. And if you know anyone who is on a strict Paleo diet, they will (most likely) avoid beans, peanuts and soy, because of present toxins, but also because of the (im)balance of carbohydrate and protein in these foods.

Follow up those readings with then something from WebMD that touts beans as a "superfood" and a perfect food for any dieter who wants to slim down, because the high amounts of fiber in beans make most people feel fuller, faster. Then on Dr. Oz's website, Samantha Heller talks about the great benefits of eating beans as we age, because not only are they reasonably-priced (compared to other protein-rich foods like meats), they are also full of antioxidants, fiber, iron and B-vitamins, and may, therefore, decrease our risks of heart disease and even diabetes.

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