October #Unprocessed…DIY a Better Bean

This is a bean house. I eat beans daily. Tofu, every once in a while. Eggs, pretty regularly. But my heart belongs to beans. Why? Because there is no food more satisfying, versatile and oh yes, economical. Beans and rice, that staple of traditional food cultures the world over, got me through my unpaid internship year. Since Heather and I are going #unprocessed this month, we thought it would be a great time to talk about making beans from scratch. Just for good, old-timey sake!

There are plenty of convenient legume options that will pass the October Unprocessed kitchen test – sprouted, dried beans; frozen beans and canned (withOUT the BHT or EDTA please!). However, the most economical and delicious way to enjoy beans is to soak and boil them yourself. They have a truly wonderful texture when you DIY. Properly soaked and rinsed beans are also easier on the ol’ digestive tract as you wash away some of the resistant starches.

I know you are busy. So am I. You can still soak beans. Here’s how:

The key is to take the assembly line approach and think ahead. Don’t try and cook soak the beans for a recipe the night before. After you boil them, you still have to make dinner. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have 2 hours to get dinner on the table on a Tuesday!

Start at night. When the house is quiet and you aren’t rushing around like mad. Choose a couple of varieties of beans you use most often – for me, this is the white cannelini bean and the black bean. You will need two large pasta pots. Economize prep time by soaking large batches: at least 3-4 cups of each dried bean topped up by enough water to at least give you 4 inches of water above the beans. Soak overnight or for a day.

The next day, once dinner is made and the dishes are done, drain and rinse those beans a couple of times and then fill the pot up with clean water and put those suckers on the stove. Let them boil as you sit back and watch a movie. See how easy this is? Once the beans are fork tender – about 45 – 55 minutes, you can let them cool and portion them into recipe-sized servings (1-2 cups, depending on how many you usually cook for) and toss them in the freezer. Date the bags. Voila! Beans as you need them.

There are plenty of delicious things to do with beans – add them to salads, soups (puree white beans in soups to make them creamy – delish!), mash for dips and sandwiches or add them to pasta. However, as the weather has made a sudden turn for fall, I was looking to cook up some serious comfort food.

Copyright Desiree Nielsen

White Bean, Pumpkin and Cauliflower Gratin

Give the potatoes a rest and up the nutrition quotient by layering cauliflower and pumpkin. You can take this recipe and lighten it up further by substituting light cheddar and evaporated skim milk. But the cream tastes really good…this serves 4-6 as a main course over your favourite whole grain or is sized just right as a side dish for a holiday meal.

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green part only
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lb sugar pumpkin, peeled and diced into 1 cm cubes
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup fresh sage, chopped
2 cups light 10% cream, full fat milk or evaporated skim milk
1 tbsp organic cornstarch or flour
salt and pepper to taste

4 cups cooked cannelini or navy beans (about 2 small cans for those in a rush)
1 large cauliflower, trimmed
2 cups of shredded aged white cheddar or gruyere

Prepare the veggies: thoroughly wash the leek and then slice lengthwise; cut halves into thin slices resembling half moons. Place the cauliflower on the cutting board stem side down and start slicing into very thin, 1/2 cm (1/4 in) slices. Much of the cauliflower will start crumbling but you will end up with enough thin cauliflower steaks to line the bottom of the baking dish.

Cauliflower Copyright Desiree Nielsen

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a large, 9 x 12 baking dish, arrange a layer of cauliflower “steaks”. Sprinkle beans over cauliflower and set dish aside.

Heat olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add leek and sauté until soft and glossy, about 5 minutes. Add pumpkin, garlic, cumin and thyme and turn up the heat a bit. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin is soft, about 10 minutes. Add remaining cauliflower crumbles and sage.

Pour the cream over the veggies and heat through. Then, in a small cup, measure out the flour or cornstarch. Add a couple of tablespoons of the hot cream to the flour and whisk with a fork until there are no lumps. Pour the mixture back into the pan, stirring constantly. Allow the cream to thicken slightly and then turn off heat.

Carefully pour the veggie cream sauce over the baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese and cover the dish with aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes covered. Remove foil and bake for 10 more minutes. Feel happy.

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2 thoughts on “October #Unprocessed…DIY a Better Bean

  1. I have only recently discovered the holy legume myself (oh my god, rice and beans, right?? LOL!). Although the canned is the most convenient, I love doing so much from scratch and gave the old diy beans myself, and liked the result. I just soaked them overnight in my crock pot and then threw on the crockpot on low over the day let them slow cook. I plan to do it again ;) Thanks for the recipes.

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