Kitchen Shrink: Use your bean

Beans of all manners - whether disguised as chopped meat or enjoyed in their natural form - have become the go-to source of lean protein for vegetarians and vegans.
(Photo by Catharine Kaufman)


More and more of us are turning to plant-based diets, whether for health reasons or environmentally-conscious ones. So the hunt is on for protein sources that don’t bleed, yet are satisfying, hearty, tasty and versatile. I broke down last week, and tried a batch of “cheat meat.”

Made of ground pea protein, it looked and smelled like real meat, and with choice herbs and spices, my chili with black beans tasted authentic with a good chunky texture, too. Beans of all manners — whether disguised as chopped meat or enjoyed in their natural form — have become the go-to source of lean protein for vegetarians and vegans.

Here’s a primer with some practical ways to manage these mighty “musical fruits” to make them friendly and simpatico with your system. So go ahead, and step on the gas!

These supercharged, high-fiber seeds from flowering plants, including beans, legumes and lentils, also have a rich store of folate needed for healthy pregnancies, immune boosting antioxidants, along with iron, zinc, calcium, and selenium to amp up blood and bone health and maintain internal balance.

Velvety textured black beans, the cornerstone of Mexican and Brazilian cuisines, are equally divine in sweet dishes as savory ones from quinoa breakfast bowls, casseroles, salads, burritos, and dips to chocolate mousses, brownies, muffins and cookies. As an added boon, these petite powerhouse carbs have a low glycemic index, so they don’t wallop the pancreas, especially for diabetics.

Cream-colored cannellinis or Italian kidney beans stay firm when cooked, or become a smooth and silky paste when mashed. These earthy beans dial up Mediterranean dishes like pasta e fagioli, tomato kale soup, panzanella salads, or panini sandwiches when used as a spread or filling.

Delicate Great Northern beans, which resemble cannellinis in color and shape, are lighter in texture with a nutty nuance. Like a culinary chameleon, Great Northerns take on the flavor of assorted dishes.

For a more robust bean, dark red kidneys add a splash of color to traditional chili dishes, rices, and soups, and an antioxidant oomph having more cancer-fighting properties than the Herculean blueberry.

The darling of southern cooking, black-eyed peas, so named for the striking dark spot on the light-colored shell, pair well with pork and other salty foods, and make an eye-popping salsa or vegetarian “caviar” with chopped heirlooms, red onions, and fresh herbs.

Edamames are typically eaten steamed and salted straight from the pods as a Japanese appetizer, or the naked soybeans are added to stir fries, Asian-themed salmon or chicken salads, or soups. As soy is a notorious genetically-modified crop, make sure you buy organic.

Beige, spherical garbanzo beans or chickpeas are cultivated in two varieties — the larger Kabuli bean from Mediterranean regions, and the smaller desi from India. While chickpeas are the base for making hummus, they are certainly not defined by that dish. Its firm texture and nutty flavor make it ideal for curry dishes, soups, stews, salad toppings and snacks when roasted and salted.

The hearty lentil, a tiny legume with a flat disk-like seed reminiscent of a contact lens, comes in Technicolors of green, brown, black, yellow and pink. A staple of Indian cuisine, use in soups, stews, salads, pilafs and curry dishes for a satisfying meal.

Alas, for many of us eating beans is a real gas–literally. That’s because they’re a store of complex sugars (stachyose, raffinose and verbascose) indigestible by the human gut since we don’t produce the enzymes necessary to break these down. They then ferment in the colon and produce flatulence.

Take solace: You can put the brakes on the gas by following these simple methods of preparation and cooking: rinse in cold water, soak overnight, drain well and cook for two hours with ginger and turmeric to make them more digestible; combine beans with a load of green vegetables and a whole grain; avoid spuds and multiple proteins as these will tamper with digestion of the beans; mash them well and remove skins, where possible.

Finally, start with beans low in complex sugars that are easier to digest like mung, adzuki and dhal, and gradually increase portion size every week to train your system to digest them.


Recipe: Wilted Kale and Chickpea Salad

Ingredients: 14-ounces baby kale, sliced in strips; 1 cup chickpeas; 1/2 red onion, diced; 1 teaspoon honey; 1/4 cup red wine vinegar; 1 teaspoon Meyer lemon juice; 1/4 cup avocado oil or olive oil; 1/4 teaspoon dry-mustard powder; 1/4 cup roasted chopped pecans or walnuts; salt and pepper to taste

Method: Cook chickpeas following directions above — or if canned, rinse in cold water, remove skins and drain well. Add to a salad bowl. Sauté onion in oil until translucent. Add vinegar, lemon, honey, mustard and seasonings. Add kale and heat until wilted. Toss with chickpeas and sprinkle with nuts. (Serves 4)

Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: and see more recipes at