Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Cooking Beans from Scratch!

Beans are a fabulous and filling source of good nutrition that are both good for your body and your budget.  Dried beans are incredibly inexpensive and can be used in a variety of dishes, from bean soup to bean burgers.  And I know, nothing will replace a real beef burger but think of bean burgers as another type of meal rather than an inferior substitute.

Beans claim to fame is the amazing amount of fiber packed into one tiny package.  One half cup of black beans contains 7.5 grams of fiber, far outstripping any other food, except perhaps lentils.  The recommended daily amount of fiber is 25-35 grams per day and just a cup of beans can get you most of the way there!

Everyone talks about fiber, but why should we care?  Well, fiber fills us up and keeps us full longer, making for a more satisfying meal.  Fiber can also prevent your blood sugar from rising too rapidly after a meal and soluble fiber can actually help lower cholesterol!

Fiber isn’t the only contribution that beans make to a healthy diet.  As with any plant food, beans contain lots of vitamins and minerals, including antioxidants, folic acid, vitamin B6 and magnesium!

Now, most people purchase canned beans and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that but if you would like to save a buck, cooking your own dried beans is the way to go.  What about gas you say?.  Gas is caused by the bacteria in the gut digesting insoluble fiber, which keeps the gut healthy and strong but a byproduct is CO2.  To reduce the amount of gas produced when eating beans, one way is to reduce the amount of insoluble fiber the bacteria has access to.
Soaking your beans and then rinsing them helps remove some of the oligosaccharides (indigestible fiber) and cooking beans with kombu seaweed helps soften the beans, leading to a further reduction in indigestible fibers and therefore gas.  Never, ever cook your beans with salt or acid like tomato or vinegar or they won’t soften properly.

Black Beans Cooked from Scratch

This recipe works well with any big beans such as pinto, chickpea, navy, kidney or great northern.

Cover beans with twice as much water as beans.  If you have three cups of beans, use six cups of water.  Let stand for eight hours or overnight.  Strain and rinse beans thoroughly under cold running water.

Cook beans in three times as much water as beans.  If you started with three cups of dried beans, cook in nine cups of water.  Add half a stick of kombu or approximately three inches.  Bring beans to a boil, cover and reduce heat to simmer 1-2 hours.  Beans are done when you can easily crush them with a fork.

You can use your cooked bean immediately, store for up to 3 days in the refrigerator or store for up to 6 months in the freezer.  It is often helpful to cook a massive batch of beans and then freeze them in usable 2-4 cup portions.

Most of all, enjoy!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Quick and Easy Tomato Sauce

So many people keep jarred pasta sauce on hand because it is just too time consuming and difficult to make your own.  But what if it wasn’t?  What if, in the space of 15 or 20 minutes, you could have a beautiful red sauce ready to serve your family?

The New Best Recipe from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated is one of my favorite cookbooks because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that if I follow the recipe, my dish will turn out perfectly.  I don’t have to guess or modify the recipe before even trying it.  But, it can also be one of the most complicated cookbooks in my arsenal so I often read Cook’s recipe and then fall back on Better Homes and Gardens or How To Cook Everything for a simpler version.  Not this time.  Cook’s has mastered the art of the quick pasta sauce, and so, I will give it to you with very little change. 

There are a few ingredients any cook needs on hand in the kitchen at all times, and those include canned tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil, which is practically all you need for this sauce.  You can have too much garlic in one dish, but in my opinion, it can be added in small quantities to almost any savory dish for an extra immune boost.  In fact, garlic used to be referred to as “Russian penicillin” for its amazing antibacterial powers.  To get the most benefit from your garlic, crush it and let it sit for a few minutes before cooking so the enzymes have time to mix and work their magic.

Tomatoes are a nutritional powerhouse, as are most fruits and vegetables.  High in beta carotene, vitamin C, biotin and vitamin K, these little buggers can do wonders for your health and vitality.  Of special note, tomatoes are especially high in the carotene lycopene, who is famous for fighting prostate cancer.  Conveniently for us, lycopene is most bioavailable in COOKED tomatoes, making this sauce both a delectable and nutritious delight!

Quick Pasta Sauce

     1            (28 oz) can diced tomatoes
     3            tablespoons olive oil
     2            medium garlic cloves, minced or crush through garlic press
     1            tablespoon dried basil
     ¼           teaspoon sugar
                   Salt to taste

1)   Heat 2 T olive oil over medium heat in a sauté pan.  When the oil is heated, add the garlic and cook 30 seconds, just until garlic is fragrant but not brown and crispy.
2)   Stir in the tomatoes and basil and heat until it starts to bubble.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, until it starts to thicken.  Stir occasionally.
3)   Add sugar, 1 T olive oil and salt to taste.  Simmer one more minute and adjust seasonings.
4)   Serve over pasta.  Leave vegetarian or add cooked sausage or salami.  Boiled greens make an excellent vegetable side dish!

Serves 4

Modified from Pasta and Quick Tomato Sauce from “The New Best Recipe” Cookbook