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Soaking Legumes: The Poor Man’s Meat

Posted Jun 01 2009 12:00am

I woke up this morning with the smell of black beans and spices cooking in the slow cooker. I made breakfast burritos: black beans scrambled with eggs, fermented salsa and goat cheese. Yummy! We all really enjoy beans (especially bean paste) and there is plenty grown here in Costa Rica. They are very filling, nutritious and great for quick meals… my favorite is brown rice and black beans with Latin American Kraut and avocados.

Once every few weeks I like to make a big batch in the beginning of the week and use it throughout the week for different meals. This week I will be making black bean brownies, sweet potato & black bean burritos and fermented bean paste. Hopefully, I will be able to post all of them and share recipes as I go along.

Legumes (or pulses): beans, chickpeas (garbanzo), peas, lentils peanuts and cashews… have nourished people for years. Throughout the world, it is known as the poor man’s meat. A combination of legumes, whole grains and a small amount of animal protein and good quality fat is a good “low-cost diet”. Legumes are rich in minerals and B vitamins. Recent research shows that legumes contain several anticancer agents. They are a great source of both omego-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.

Vegetable protein is also important and is found in largest quantites in whole grains, seeds, beans, legumes, peas, nuts, etc. Vegetable protein alone cannot sustain healthy life because it does not contain enough of al the amino acids that are essential. There is only one plant that can be classed as a complete protein – the soybean; but it is so low in two of the essential amino acids that it cannot serve as a complete protein for human consumption. In fact, most all plants lack methionine, one of the essential amino acids. Vegetable protein, when supplemented properly by animal protein, makes an excellent combination. Health cannot be maintained on a diet that omits animal protein. - Your Body Is Your Best Doctor / by H. Leon Abrams -

The preparation of legumes is important as they contain phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors and difficult-to-digest complex sugars. Traditional societies prepared them with great care. Beans are soaked for long periods (usually 12-24 hours) of time before they are cooked. After they’ve soaked, it is important to pour out the water and rinse the beans thoroughly because many of the anti-nutrients are released into the soaking water. While the legumes cook, all the foam that rises to the top is skimmed out (contains impurities). Sometimes the water is replaced halfway through the cooking process. All that care in preparation ensures that legumes will be thoroughly digestible and all the nutrients well absorbed into the body. Such careful preparation neutralizes the phytic acid, enzyme inhibitors and breaks down the difficult-to-digest complex sugars.

Many of you might be wondering, “What about canned beans?”… This is what Nourishing Traditions has to say:

High temperatures and pressures used in the canning process do reduce phytate content, but the danger is that such processing over denatures proteins and other nutrients at the same. Canned beans are best eaten sparingly.

And if you’re like me… can’t digest beans very well and resulting awful, embarrassing gas and cramps, it is best to soak your own beans so that you can actually enjoy them! I've tried soaking beans for 24 hours and beyond, but would still get mild discomforts. Thankfully there is another solution that has worked every time for us… adding baking soda to the soaking water. It is such a relief to be able to enjoy beans without the side effects. I don’t quite understand what baking soda does to help make the beans more digestible. I’ve read that hard, mineral-rich water will hinder the hydrating process and adding some baking soda will help make it slightly basic, but I would like to find out more! Anybody have any thoughts?

Basic Beans
Makes 8-10 cups cooked beans

  • 2 cups beans
  • warm filtered water
  • 2 Tbsp. whey, lemon juice or vinegar (acid medium)
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and mashed (optional)
  • 1 onion, chopped (optional)
  • handful fresh or dried herbs (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda (if needed)

Cover beans with warm water. Stir in acid medium of your choice and add baking soda if needed. Leave in a warm place for 12-24 hours, depending on type of bean. Drain and rinse beans. Place in large pot or slow cooker and add water to cover beans. Bring to a boil (put slow cooker on high) and skim off foam. Reduce heat (turn slow cooker on low) and add optional garlic, onion and herbs. Simmer, covered, for 4-8 hours. Check occasionally and add more water as necessary. Season to taste (add salt after beans are done).

NOTE: My slow cooker temperature on the "low" is not hot enough to cook the beans well. So, I have to keep it on "high" for best results. Everybody's slow cooker gives different results.

Legume Varieties and Suggested Soaking Times

12-24 hours
Black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas and white beans

7-10 hours
Lentils, fava beans and dried split peas

24 hours
Chickpeas (Garbanzo)
- Important: skin needs to be picked off before cooking -

More reading if interested: Putting The Polish on Those Humble Beans

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