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Black beans have long been prized for their robust flavour, creamy texture and remarkable nutritional content. They have gained widespread popularity, so take the plunge and add these deliciously versatile legumes to your winter pantry.
WINTER WARMINGDuring the coldest time of the year, we are encouraged to eat more of those foods that require longer cooking times. Many healing traditions teach us that the longer we cook foods the more warming they become for the body. In the most basic sense, eating more slow-cooked meals in winter will go a long way in keeping you toasty. Legumes like black beans are particularly suited to the wintertime as they offer concentrated warmth and nourishment when the body needs it most. Their hearty flavour lends itself to all manner of comfort foods, but even a cursory look at their nutritional properties makes a compelling argument for their inclusion in the diet.
A NUTRIENT POWERHOUSEPacked with abundant protein, soluble fibre and a wide range of essential minerals, these unassuming little beans make a smart addition to any meal. Cooked beans have been shown to be a sensible choice in decreasing serum cholesterol levels and stabilising blood sugar, and black beans are no exception. Of particular interest, however, is the concentration of protective flavonoids within the seed coats which give the beans their striking colour. These pigments may significantly increase their health-giving benefits compared to other beans making them an even more enticing option for the dinner table. You might think that something with such a reassuring combination of nutrients might not spark fireworks on the palate, but thankfully black beans are as tasty as they are wholesome, and extremely versatile too.
A ONE-STOP SHOPBlack beans may be a nourishing winter food, but do not think that they can only be served in stews. Cooked black beans can be added to any number of dishes, and because they are already so scrumptious they require very little doctoring to create fabulous feasts. They add a refreshing spin on seasonal soups and salads, can be blitzed into delectable dips, and can even be used to create moist, protein-rich baked goods.
TO CAN OR NOT TO CAN...While it may be convenient to use beans from a tin, opt for soaking and cooking your own dried beans wherever possible. Apart from the environmental implications, tinned beans can contain significant amounts of added sugar. However, cane sugar is not added to improve quality, but rather to decrease the cost of production. The reason is that both salt and sugar are comparatively cheap. Excess salt might make the beans unpalatable, so sugar is also added to increase bulk. In short, more chaff, less beans. It is one example of how refined sugar has crept into foods that are not normally sweetened. It may serve the producers, but has little to do with ensuring the health of the eater. The good news is that home-cooked beans knock the socks off anything from a tin – even the cooking liquid will add extra goodness to a meal.
IMPROVING DIGESTIBILITYThe complex starches found in all legumes can be tricky for the body to digest. Gas and bloating are the most well-known side effects of eating beans. While there are myriad suggestions for improving digestibility, the most effective is to let your beans soak in cool water for a longer period of time. Longer soaking activates those enzymes in the bean which convert starches into food as the young bean sprouts into life. These enzymes will do some of the work for you so that your body doesn't need to. Black beans require shorter soaking time, so even leaving them in water overnight makes them easier on the digestive tract. Remember to always discard the soaking liquid and start with fresh water for cooking as many of the compounds that hinder digestion will have leached into the liquid. Once you have cooked your beans, it is time for the culinary adventure to begin. Here are a handful of tantalising black bean dishes to offer inspiration.
Black bean and shiitake mushroom risottoAlways keep your stock warm when making risotto. Try to use organic stock whenever possible, and adjust depending on the type used to make one litre of liquid. Then get ready to stir, stir, stir!
Ingredients3 dried shiitake mushrooms1 organic stock cube1 l water100 g butter1 tbsp olive oil1 onion, finely chopped1 small garlic clove, crushed1 cup arborio rice½ cup cooked black beans100 ml parmesan, grated1 tbsp sage, choppedsalt and peppersage leaves/parmesan/pepper to garnish
Method1. Soak the mushrooms in hot water for up to an hour until fully hydrated. Trim the fibrous stalks and discard. Slice mushroom caps thinly.2. Place water and stock cube in a saucepan and bring to a very gentle simmer. Keep warm.3. In a large saucepan place half the butter and the oil. Add the onion and stir over medium-low heat until onion is tender. Add the mushrooms and garlic and stir well. Add the rice and stir for one minute until well coated in butter. Add just enough water to cover the rice and stir until absorbed. Repeat until all stock has been added and rice is thick and creamy. 4. Stir in the black beans. Beat in remaining butter, parmesan and sage before serving immediately.5. Garnish with sage and parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper.
Black Bean and Olive Dip with Roasted GarlicAlthough instructions are included here to roast garlic, the easiest thing to do is to nestle some whole cloves in with other vegetables roasting in the oven. Extra cloves can be peeled and stored in the fridge in olive oil. Serve this zesty dip with chunks of toasted sourdough bread. Ingredients6 cloves garlic (do not peel)2 cups cooked black beans1 cup pitted black/kalamata olives¼ cup lemon juicepinch lemon zest½ tsp salt to taste1 tsp fresh rosemary leaves, chopped¼ cup olive oil (approx.)black pepper
Method1. For the garlic: coat unpeeled cloves in a little olive oil and place on a baking tray. Place in a pre-heated oven at 200°C and roast for 15 to 20 minutes until pungent and golden. 2.Place all ingredients except olive oil in a blender and begin blending. Add olive oil in a stream until the desired consistency is reached. Adjust seasoning and serve drizzled generously with olive oil and black pepper.
Black bean soup with chilli roasted sweet potatoI am not a big fan of bread croutons, but I do love adding tasty morsels to soups, especially when there is a strong contrast of flavour. Here, creamy black beans play with fiery sweet potato to create a sensational winter feast. IngredientsOlive/grape seed oil1 onion, peeled and chopped1 carrot, chopped1 stalk celery, chopped1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed1 tomato, chopped1 tbsp grated ginger1 turnip, peeled and chopped2 cups cooked black beans1 litre water (approx.)salt and pepper to taste¼ cup dhania (coriander) chopped
For the sweet potato:1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced½ tsp garam masala1 tsp dry red chili flakes (to taste)2 cloves garlic, crushed1 tbsp olive/grape seed oilsalt and pepper to taste
Method 1. Add enough oil to just cover the base of a pot and heat. Add onions, carrots, celery, stirring well after each addition and then sauté for 3 minutes. Add the garlic, tomato and ginger and stir through. 2. Add the beans and turnip and cover with water. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat and blend. 3.For the sweet potato: pre-heat oven to 200°C and grease an oven-proof dish. Combine sweet potato with seasonings and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven-proof dish and bake in the oven for 20 minutes until cooked through and flecked with colour. 4.Adjust seasoning of the soup. Stir in the dhania and either add the sweet potatoes to the pot or arrange a little in each serving plate.
He studied Holistic Nutrition in the UK, returning to South Africa in 2007. He was the resident cook at the Buddhist Retreat Centre in Ixopo and created the recipes for the extremely popular book The Cake the Buddha Ate. His first solo book, Retreat – The Joy of Conscious Eating, was published in 2014 and has earned Daniel the affectionate title of ‘South Africa’s most beloved vegetarian chef’. He teaches popular cookery retreats around the country with a strong emphasis on seasonal eating.
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