Beans are a member of the legume family, along with peas and lentils. They are a main staple for a vegetarian diet, and can be used by meat eaters as an alternative protein in recipes. However, because they are a starch-protein combination, they can be difficult for people to digest. One reason being that intestinal bacteria attacks the indigestible fiber that remains in the large intestine, causing gas to form. Another is a lack of proper enzymes needed to break down legumes trisaccharides into simple sugars. There are, however, a few things the home cook can do to help make beans easier to digest.
Why bother? Because according to Traditional Chinese medicine, beans strengthen the kidney-adrenal function, which governs balanced sexual activity and allows for proper growth of the physical body and brain. So, break out those dried beans that have been gathering dust on your shelf and cook up a batch for dinner. You can always freeze the leftovers for another day.
Long Soak: Presoak the beans for five to eight hours, then change the water before cooking. Presoaking also reduces the cooking time by a good half hour or more.
I-forgot-to-soak-the-beans-soak: Cover the beans with water, bring to a boil, cover, remove from heat, and allow to sit for one hour. Change the water and continue cooking.
Salt: Add the salt and acidic ingredients such as tomatoes once the beans are soft.
Pressure-cooking: helps to reduce the gaseous qualities.
Lentils: Allow your digestive system to get used to beans by beginning with lentils, then adding small amounts of beans to your diet.
Begin: with beans that are easier to digest such as navy, great northern, aduki, or black beans.
Additions: Add a small piece of kombu seaweed when cooking beans, or season with ginger, fennel, cumin or bay leaf to help reduce the gaseous qualities.
Beano: Put a few drops of Beano in the first few bites of your meal. Beano is an enzyme product that works to digest the carbohydrates that would normally feed the intestinal bacteria.
Foam: When boiling beans skim the foam from the top and discard. Allow beans to simmer uncovered for first 20 minutes to help disperse the indigestible enzymes.
Vinegar: Add brown rice, apple cider or red wine vinegar to the beans in the final minutes of cooking.
1. Before cooking, pick through the beans and remove any stones, broken beans, or other bits of debris.
2. Soak the beans and drain the soaking water and add fresh water before cooking.
3. Add kombu or herbs and bring water to a hard boil, reduce the heat, and let the beans simmer until tender, usually about forty-five to fifty minutes. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. At this point, you can add vegetables and seasonings such as potatoes, carrots, peppers, basil, and bay leaf.
4. About fifteen minutes before the beans are done, add the salt and any acidic ingredients like tomatoes. The salt helps to bring out the full flavor of the beans; but adding salt and acidic foods too early inhibits the water’s ability to penetrate the beans, leaving them hard and tough no matter how long you boil them.
5. When the beans are soft and tender, adjust the seasonings as needed.
Because beans and legumes have diuretic properties and can be drying to the body many cultures combine them with oil in order to stimulate the digestive process and enhance the flavor of the dish. For example, when the beans are almost tender add some oil to a skillet and saute chopped onions until slightly tender. Add ginger, garlic, tomatoes, and chopped parsley to the onions. Let simmer for five minutes then add to the beans along with a small amount of water used to wash out the flavors left behind in the skillet. Season with salt, miso or soy sauce for a deep, enriching flavor. Most importantly, chew your beans well.