Come back to beans with this recipe

When you think of beans, what comes to mind? Chances are, not many dishes spring to the front of your thoughts. Beans of every description have fallen out of the regular rotation in the average North American diet, and that’s a real shame.

It’s a shame because, not only are they an efficient, low-impact source of protein, but the can be absolutely delicious when prepared properly. When was the last time you cooked your own beans from dry? Have you ever? Would you know what to do with a big pot of freshly-cooked navy beans or chick peas?

The nutritional value of beans should be a mystery to no-one. They are not only high in protein, but are a great source of fibre. For example, one cup of cooked kidney beans contains over 11 grams of dietary fibre, to go with over 15 grams of protein and less than one gram of fat. Compare that to the nutrition in beef. Sure, an 8-ounce top sirloin steak provides far more protein, 60 to 70 grams, but that’s along with at least 11 grams of fat, over 4 grams of which is saturated.

That’s a gram-to gram ratio of 6-to-1 protein to fat for the steak and over 15-to-1 for the beans. Chances are that this ratio is in fact worse for the steak, which can easily contain enough fat for a gram-to-gram ratio as low as 2-to-1 protein to fat, depending on the cut. Beans also contain zero cholesterol to the steak’s 100-plus milligrams. Oh, and the steak has no fibre.

I’m not trying to beat the drum against beef here, but to illustrate a point. Beans are cheap. They are high in protein, B-vitamins, and minerals like potassium and iron, and boast a relatively tiny carbon footprint. Past generations ate beans all over the place for many of these reasons. With what we know today, they become even more compelling.

For example, in the steak we were considering, up to half of the fat will be saturated, artery-clogging fat, while less than 10 percent is polyunsaturated. Of the roughly 0.9 grams of fat in one cup of cooked kidney beans, about half of it is polyunsaturated fat, the good kind.

I’d like you to see how, no matter what your diet, you can upgrade the food value on your plate by adding some beans. With the rise of big factory farms, other protein sources have become cheap, thus driving beans out of the public eye. I’d like you to try coming back to beans. Consider this the first of a many-part series devoted to that cause.

To get you started, here’s a dish that nobody will see coming at the barbecue. Of course, you can make it just as easily on the stove, but it’s a head-turner coming off the grill. If you’re well-prepared, this can also make for a quick and easy camping recipe that you could cook over the fire. Simply pre-mix the spices and, if you can, pre-cut the vegetables, which should easily keep for a couple of days. Remember, this is supposed to be a quick and easy recipe, so look for whatever technique makes it the quickest and easiest for you.

Grill-Top Chili

1 cup each black beans, pinto beans, and red kidney beans, cooked and drained
1 onion, diced
1-2 carrots, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1 cup corn
2 green onions, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
1 lime
2-3 jalapeno peppers, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced

1 tsp cumin, ground
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp coriander, ground
1 tsp fennel, ground
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp cocoa

1 ltr mushroom broth
oil for sauté
salt and pepper

Preparing the jalapenos: Cut the peppers in half length-ways. With a paring knife, remove the stem end, the seeds and the white ribs inside the pepper. If you remove the ribs completely, you basically remove all the heat. If you want it spicy, leave some of the ribs on the pepper, but remove at least half of the white if you want it mild enough to be edible. Carefully discard the spicy bits and wash your knife thoroughly. Your hands will remain spicy for some time, so don’t touch your eyes (or, ahem, anywhere else) until you’ve washed them with soap and hot water at least four times. Want proof? Figure out which finger was the most in contact with the jalapenos (probably your left index finger) and lick it. If it’s spicy, you need another wash.

Choosing a cooking vessel: You want something fire-proof. An old campfire cooking pot is ideal, plus adds a little rustic quality to the presentation. Failing that, just pick a pot which you don’t mind getting charred, but make sure it does not have a plastic handle. Ideally, you will pick something the general shape of a saucepan: at least twice as wide in diameter as it is deep.

Broth: You can use any broth you like. I find that mushroom gives the chili that deep, rich flavour which blends just perfectly with the cumin and cocoa. For all I care, you could use vegetable, chicken or even beef broth to make this dish, but I like the mushroom. To keep things simple, try a nice dry stock. A good store will have a wide selection of quality dry products, including several organic options. I often get a porcini bouillon cube for myself.

1) Take the onion, carrot, celery, and jalapenos and lightly fry them together in a pan with a little salt. Don’t worry if the onions take on a little colour, but don’t brown them. Mix all of the spices together. When the onions are transparent, add half of the spice mix and stir it into the vegetables for about 10 seconds, then squeeze half the lime onto it and remove from the heat.
2) Take your fire-proof cooking vessel. Put in the beans, cooked vegetables, red pepper, and corn. Layer the diced tomatoes and sliced green onions on top. Sprinkle with the remaining spices and cover with broth.
3) Cover your pot with either a lid or a tight layer of tin foil and place over a medium to medium-low flame for about 30 to 45 minutes, until all of the water is absorbed, but before it starts to burn. Finish with a squeeze of lime juice and enjoy.

Variations: A nice touch is to garnish with more diced tomato and/or a sliced green onion. If you like, try serving it with brown rice. You can also vary the beans, omitting, for example, the pinto beans in favour of a half-cup more each of the black and kidney beans. I sometimes omit the black beans in favour of more pintos. Also, for even more protein, try adding a cup of one of the many vegetarian ground beef-style products available.

One pot method: Yes, you can do everything in one pot. The method above is ideal if you want to prepare everything beforehand and let it sit for a while in the fridge before putting it onto the fire. For a one-pot method, just cook the onions, carrots, celery, and jalapenos in your final cooking vessel and add a little shot of broth (up to 1 cup) to the pan with the lime juice. The idea is to stop the spices from cooking any more so that they don’t go bitter in the hot oil. Heating them a little bit brings out the flavour. Overcooking them makes the whole dish bitter. Next, just add everything to the pot as described above and cook as normal.

More in Meatless in Vancouver

Tips for scratch cooking

My singular culinary mission in life is the promotion of scratch cooking. Simply-put, that's just the approach that whatever you can cook from scratch ought to be cooked from scratch. Of course, that...

From Nuba Restaurant's kitchen in Gastown comes delicious Vegan Lebanese dishes worth visiting Vancouver for

You walk down into Nuba from a staircase at the corner of Hastings and Cambie. The concept is simple and clear, contemporary casual Lebanese. As a vegetarian, I was pleased to see that much of the...

Coconut cream pudding

 A Chaotic Cooking dinner party inspired me to try to make a new dish.  And it turned out to be delicious.  Give it a try yourself and let me know how you liked it by commenting below...
Speak up about this article on Facebook or Twitter. Do this by liking Vancouver Observer on Facebook or following us @Vanobserver on Twitter. We'd love to hear from you.