Category Archives: Food

Thai Cuisine

Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia that has not been colonized by Europeans. Thus, its cuisine is authentic and has only been slightly influenced by bordering countries or traders.

Thai cuisine is very spicy and focuses on dishes which are well balanced in four areas – sweet (usually palm sugar or coconut milk), salty (fish sauce and salt), sour (lime in several forms and tamarind) and spicy (chilies). Meals served in restaurants are accompanied by a quartet of sauces brought to the table – fish sauce, sliced chili peppers in rice vinegar, dried chili flakes, and palm sugar. Rice is served at most meals, (usually jasmine rice, but also sticky or glutinous rice) and sometimes noodles. Cucumbers are often served to cool the palate. I was told recently that additional ways to counter the spiciness is to add more rice, add sugar, or drink more beer!

Thai food was traditionally eaten by the right hand while seated on cushions on the floor, but today most Thais eat with a fork and large spoon. The fork is held in the left hand and is used to scoop or push into the spoon which is held in the right hand. Chopsticks are reserved only for noodle dishes.

The Thai pantry can be stocked from items available in the international aisle at a grocery store or a local Asian market. Lo’s Seafood in Portsmouth, NH carries Thai canned goods (coconut milk, fish sauce, tamarind paste), kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, galangal, fresh chilies (bird’s eye chilies or very tiny chilies are hotter than larger chilies), Thai basil and cilantro. Green, yellow and red curry pastes (hottest to mildest, respectively) can be made from scratch or purchased already prepared.

The following recipe for Chicken Coconut Milk Soup is one which we prepared at the Thai Farm Cooking School while I was in Thailand recently.

Tom Kaa Gai (Chicken Coconut Milk Soup)

Ingredients:

½ c. water

¼ cup of peeled, thinly sliced galangal or ginger

1 stalk of lemongrass, sliced into one-inch pieces

½ cup halved grape tomatoes

½ cup sliced mushrooms

1-5 bird eye’s chili peppers

1 chicken breast, sliced thinly and cut into bite-sized pieces

1 can coconut milk

2-3 kaffir lime leaves

1 stem of cilantro, finely diced

3 sliced scallions

1 T. fish sauce or soy sauce

½ teaspoon light brown sugar

Pinch of salt

2 teaspoons of lime juice

Directions:

Combine water, galangal, lemongrass, tomatoes and mushrooms in a saucepan over medium high heat and bring to boil. Remove stems from chili peppers and crush open by banging down with your palm on the flat side of a heavy knife. Add chili peppers, coconut milk and chicken pieces to broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until chicken is milky white all the way through. Fold kaffir lime leaves in half along spine and remove spine of each leaf to release flavor. Add to soup with cilantro, scallions, fish sauce, sugar and salt to taste. Continue to cook over medium heat for 5 more minutes to intensify flavor. Finally add lime juice (soup will be too bitter if lime juice is added too early.) Lemongrass pieces, kaffir lime leaves, chilies and  galangal or ginger root should be removed prior to serving as they are all too tough to chew. Serves 2.

 

 

 

 

 

K’UL Chocolate

kul-5

I recently had the opportunity to taste some fabulous artisan chocolate crafted by the K’UL Company of Minneapolis. (Wish you were here to assist!)

The name K’UL (pronounced cool) comes from the Mayan word for energy. The chocolate bars are promoted as a superfood providing the energy to do more and to do it better. The K’UL chocolate makers directly import their cacao beans from farms in Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Peru eliminating the middle man. The farms are chosen not only because they have great tasting cacao beans, but also because they are professionally managed, have well-paid labor, and practice sustainable, environmental-conscious organic farming. All K’UL bars are 70% cacao, vegan, gluten free, soy free and dairy free.

Chocolate tasting is an art in itself, involving all five senses. First, use your nose and start by smelling the chocolate. Taste is 75% aroma and these chocolate bars were rich with the fragrance of cocoa. Next, use your eyes as you need to evaluate the appearance of the chocolate. All of the K’UL bars were deep brown in color with a polished sheen. Let’s use our sense of touch. These bars were smooth in texture except where extra ingredients were added for more complexity. What does a good chocolate bar sound like?  When you bite into one or break off a piece, you should hear a distinct “snap,” indicating that they have been properly tempered. (Tempering prevents the dull grayish color and waxy texture that happens when the cocoa fat separates out.) And last, but most important, is the way the chocolate tastes. Did you know that chocolate has 400 flavor profiles? That’s more than a fine wine! Let is slowly melt in your mouth. Using your tongue, move the chocolate to the roof of your mouth. Move your tongue back and forth to warm the chocolate for full appreciation. Mmm! The K’UL bars had no bitter after taste, either.  I must admit they were the finest I’ve ever tasted!

Peru

Made from the world’s rarest cacao white bean, this single origin chocolate bar has a distinct orange accent, with a slight butterscotch flavor and floral notes. I compared this bar to a Lindt Intense Orange dark chocolate bar which I had on hand, and the Lindt chocolate  tasted like vegetable shortening by comparison.

Brazil

This single origin bar was one of my favorites (but then, they all were.) Deep, dark and rich, it felt like velvet on my tongue. I detected malt, fruit, brown sugar and maybe a hint of coffee.

Electrobar

This chocolate bar was chewy and tangy with a slightly crumbly texture. The added bananas and coconut make this one truly healthy and delicious. What a great way to enjoy chocolate for breakfast!

Power

Perfect to tuck in your gym bag, this superfood bar is packed with protein from peanuts and currants!

Endurance

The Endurance bar combines premium dark chocolate with cranberries, guarana and pumpkin seeds, which add a nice toasted nut flavor.

Stamina

The stamina bar was also one of my favorites. It was a luscious dark chocolate enhanced with maca root, cranberries, cherries, pomegranate and raspberries. I wonder if this could count in my diet as a serving of fruit?

Saltsation

The rich chocolate flavor of the Saltsation bar is enhanced with the addition of sea salt.

Marcona Almonds

Hand roasted almonds added a crunchy, crispy texture to this velvety chocolate.

Vanilla

The blend of dark chocolate with pure vanilla added even greater depth to the deep cocoa flavor.

Haiti

Rich and silky smooth, this single origin bar has the flavor of fruit, floral notes like jasmine and a hint of licorice.

Ecuador

The single origin bar from Ecuador has a buttery flavor that made me think of brown sugar and butterscotch.

For more information and ordering these and other K’UL chocolate bars, visit www.kul-chocolate.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 52: Turmeric

Turmeric

Turmeric is an orange-colored spice native to India and Indonesia, revered for its culinary and therapeutic benefits. Turmeric gives the curry its bright yellow or orange color and contributes to its peppery, warm, and mildly bitter taste. It also provides a tangy and ginger-like fragrance.

Turmeric is a root crop known for its tough brown skin and bright orange flesh. For more than 5,000 years, this root crop has been cultivated in the tropical regions of Asia. During the 13th century, turmeric was introduced to western countries by Arab traders. Its popularity has slowly spread across the globe. Today, the leading producers of this aromatic spice are India, Indonesia, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Haiti, and Jamaica.

First used as a textile dye, turmeric has been used for its medicinal properties in China and India for thousands of years. Turmeric is also used as a food additive to create a rich, yellow color in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, cereals, sauces, and gelatins.

Health Benefits

Turmeric is arguably the most powerful herb on the planet at fighting and potentially reversing disease. It has so many healing properties that currently there have been 6,235 peer-reviewed articles published proving the benefits of turmeric.

Turmeric’s active ingredient is an extracted compound called curcumin. Among the health benefits of curcumin is reducing inflammation of the joints characteristic of arthritis. Other studies suggest that this powerful spice may also help protect us against breast, lung, stomach, liver, and colon cancer, heart disease and even Alzheimer’s disease by reducing some levels of beta amyloid plaque in the brain, a compound associated with cognitive decline.

Turmeric has the ability to improve the effects of diabetic medications and help in controlling the disease. It reduces the risks of developing insulin resistance, a physiological condition in which the cells fail to respond to the normal actions of the insulin hormone.

Research also suggests that turmeric can help reduce total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides in overweight people with high cholesterol. Turmeric may also relax blood vessels and minimize heart damage after suffering a heart attack.

So for inflammation and more, it appears that turmeric could be the supplement you’ve been searching for. When searching for a turmeric supplement, however, be sure to choose one that includes the black pepper extract piperine. Without it, the curcumin that is ingested gets metabolized before it’s absorbed.

Preparation

Our local Asian market in Portsmouth, NH sells turmeric rhizomes. You can make your own fresh turmeric powder by boiling, drying and then grinding the roots into a fine powder.

However, its deep color can easily stain, so quickly wash any area with which the turmeric has come into contact with soap and water. To prevent staining your hands, you might consider wearing kitchen gloves while handling turmeric.

Side Effects

Some people have reported allergic reactions to turmeric, especially after skin exposure. Typically this is experienced as a mild, itchy rash. People taking certain medications should also be careful when using turmeric in their food or supplementing with it. Turmeric may interfere with anti-coagulants like aspirin, and warfarin. It also can affect medications such as non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs. As with any herb or supplement, use as directed.

So why wouldn’t you try this natural ingredient for better health? It could just be the “spice of life.”

Resources

www.draxe.com

www.tophealthsource.com

www.thetruthaboutcancer.com

www.webmd.com

www.whfoods.com

 

Week 51: Oodles of Noodles

noodles

Nearly every culture has a form of noodle to compliment its cuisine. The word “noodle” derives from the German word nudel. Generally made of unleavened dough (no yeast), they are cut into strips, shaped or dropped by the teaspoon into boiling, salted water to cook, or are steamed or fried.

In the Philippines noodles represent long life and good health and it is believed that they must not be cut short so as not to corrupt the symbolism. The Filipino noodle dish pancit is served to celebrate the birth of a child and on subsequent birthdays. Kugel is a baked pudding or casserole made from egg noodles (Lokshen kugel) or potato and is a traditional Jewish dish, often served on Shabbat and Yom Toy. In the northwestern region of China and Central Asia, Uighurs and Uzbeks make a dish called manta, steamed dumplings filled with mutton and pumpkin and served with cream. In Turkey, the dish evolves into manti, tiny tortellini-like dumplings that are boiled and served with yogurt, mint-infused oil, paprika, and crushed walnuts.

History

The Chinese made noodles as far back as 3,000 BCE, although the first written evidence of noodles in China was not until 206 BCE. An excavation of an Etruscan tomb shows drawings of natives making pasta in the 4th century BCE, and in the 1st century BCE, Horace wrote of fried sheets of dough called lagana. Arabs took noodles, string-like shapes made of semolina flour and dried before cooking, with them on long journeys in the 5th century. Wheat noodles (udon) were adapted by a Buddhist monk in Japan in the 9th century from an earlier Chinese recipe. Persian resteh noodles were eaten in the 13th century. Pasta has been a staple for Italian families for generations.  Marco Polo is credited with bringing pasta to Italy after his exploration of the Far East in the 13th century and written records of spatzle in Germany date to 1725.

Health

A virtually fat free and salt free food, noodles are low on the Glycemic Index (GI). The Glycemic Index is a ranking of carbohydrates and the effect they have on our blood glucose levels. A low GI carbohydrate is digested more slowly and satisfies hunger longer without increasing blood sugar levels.

Classification

Noodles are usually classified according to ingredients.

Acorn noodles – Korean noodles known as dotori guksu made of acorn meal, wheat flour, wheat germ, and salt.

Cellophane noodles – made from mung beans, potato starch or canna starch.

Kelp noodles – made from seaweed.

pasta

Pasta – Italian noodles made using semolina flour, which comes from grinding kernels of durum wheat. Sometimes the semolina is mixed with other flours. It is then mixed with water until it forms sticky dough. Additional ingredients are then added to the pasta, like eggs to make egg noodles, or spinach or tomato to make red or green colored pasta. Pasta is formed into various shapes. Here are some of the most common:

Alfabeto—tiny alphabet letter pasta

Agnolotti—shaped like half moons

Anellini– little rings

Anolini—ravioli in half-moon shape with ruffled edges

Bucatini—long, fat hollow strands like spaghetti

Capelli d’angelo—angel hair pasta; very fine long strands

Castellane—rigid shell shape

Conchigliette- little conch shells

Ditali—small tubes like “thimbles”

Farfalle—bow-tie or butterfly shapes

Fusilli– shaped like a corkscrew

Gnocchetti—small oval dumplings

Maccheroni—little elbows

Mezzi Tubetti—larger hollow tubes

Millerighe– large rigatoni with ribbed sides

Orecchiette—shaped like little “cups” or “ears”

Paccheri– very large tubes

Penne piccolo– small narrow tubes with ends cut on diagonal

Rigatoni—big hollow tubes

Rotelle—small wheels

Rotini– small corkscrews

Sedanini—thin, hollow tubes

Spaghetti—long strands

Spellete- little stars

Tagliarini– similar to linguine with a flat side, but thinner

Vermicelli– similar to spaghetti, but thinner
Rice noodles

Rice vermicelli – also known as rice sticks, they are long and thin

Idiyappam – Indian rice noodles

Khanom chin – fermented rice noodles used in Thai cooking

Pancit noodles – very thin rice noodles used in Filipino cooking

Soba noodles

Somen – thin Japanese noodles often coated with oil

Spatzle – a German noodle made of wheat and eggs

Udon – thicker Japanese wheat noodles

Preparation

Always cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water to keep it from being sticky.  Never add oil to the water or you inhibit the ability of the sauce to cling to the pasta.  Also, it is not necessary to drain the pasta after cooking unless you are going to serve it cold in a pasta salad. Generally, you should use thinner pastas with thin sauces and thicker shapes with thicker sauces as the sauce will coat the shape and cling to it better.

The proper way to eat spaghetti is to wind the spaghetti up on the fork and eat it in one bite. It is very impolite to eat half of the noodles and let the other half to fall back into your plate. In Asia cultures, making slurping sounds while eating noodles shows that you are really enjoying the meal!

Resources

Fukushima, Shunsuke. Japanese Home Cooking.

Marlani, John. The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink

www.theatlantic.com

www.wikipedia.com

Week 50: Lobsters

lobster1

I love living on the Seacoast! My cottage is just a block from the beach and I get to hear the lobster boats go out in the early morning, just before the sun comes over the horizon. And did I mention lobsters? They are plentiful and inexpensive here.

Most of the lobsters we are familiar with are the cold water clawed marine crustaceans referred to as the “true” lobster, but there are tropical varieties as well which include the spiny lobsters and slipper lobsters (which have no claws), squat lobsters, and crayfish.

Lobsters are found in all oceans. They live on rocky, sandy, or muddy bottoms from the shoreline to beyond the edge of the continental shelf. They generally live singly in crevices or in burrows under rocks. They are omnivores and typically eat live prey such as fish, mollusks, other crustaceans, worms, and some plant life. They scavenge if necessary.

Lobsters are invertebrates with a hard exoskeleton, which means they have to molt as they grow. Lobsters, like snails and spiders, have blue blood due to the presence of hemocyanin which contains copper. In general, true lobsters are 10-20 inches long (although they can grow up to four feet long and weigh as much as 40 pounds), and move by slowly walking on the sea floor. However, when they flee, they swim backward quickly by curling and uncurling their abdomens. They live to be about 70 years old and are able to add new muscle cells at each molt. This longevity may be due to an enzyme that repairs long repetitive sections of DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes, called telomeres.

Did you know that lobsters were once so plentiful that after a storm they would wash ashore in deep piles? They were gathered by hand until the mid-19th century when lobstermen started using baited, one-way traps with a color-coded marker buoy to mark cages. Cages are of plastic-coated galvanized steel or wood. A lobster fisherman may tend as many as 2,000 traps!

Once caught, lobsters are graded as soft shell (or shedders), hard-shell, or old-shell, soft shell lobsters have paper-thin shells and a poor meat-to-shell ratio, but the meat is very sweet. Hard-shell lobsters with firm shells, have more but with less sweet meat, so they command a higher price. Meanwhile, old-shell lobsters, which have not shed since the previous season have a coarser flavor. Culls are lobsters which have lost one of their claws.

spiny-lobster

Spiny lobsters (langouste or rock lobsters) – Although they superficially resemble true lobsters in terms of overall shape and having a hard exoskeleton, they are distinguished from true lobsters by their lack of claws. They are found throughout all warm seas, especially in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the Bahamas.

squat lobster

Squat lobsters – These are flattened crustaceans which a long tail curled beneath their bodies. More than 900 species exist throughout the world’s oceans. They are plentiful off Baja, California, Mexico, South America and New Zealand. Flesh from these animals is often commercially sold in restaurants as “langostino” or sometimes dishonestly called “lobster” when incorporated in seafood dishes. As well as being used for human consumption, there is demand for squat lobster meat to use as feed in fish farms and shrimp or prawn farms. This is in part because they contain a pigment that helps to color the meat of farmed salmon and trout.

crayfish

Crayfish (crawfish, crawdads) – Crayfish are freshwater crustaceans resembling small lobsters. Some species are found in brooks and streams where there is running fresh water, while others thrive in swamps, ditches, and rice paddies. Generally only the tail portion is eaten, except at crayfish boils, where the entire body is served. Like all crustaceans, crayfish are not kosher because they are aquatic animals that do not have both fins and scales. Crayfish are also commonly sold and used as bait.

History

In Colonial times, lobster was fed to pigs and goats and only eaten by prisoners, indentured servants or paupers. In North America, the American lobster did not achieve popularity until the mid-19th century, when New Yorkers and Bostonians developed a taste for it. American lobster was initially deemed worthy only of being used as fertilizer or fish bait, and until well into the 20th century, it was not viewed as more than a low-priced canned staple food.

Preparation

Native Americans ate lobsters after wrapping them in seaweed and baking them over hot rocks. We usually boil or steam lobsters today. The most common way of killing lobsters is by placing them live in boiling water or to split the lobster or sever the body in half lengthwise. Lobsters may also be killed immediately before boiling by a stab into the brain, in the belief that this will stop suffering. The boiling method is illegal in some places, such as in the Reggio Emilia region of Italy, where offenders face fines up to €495. When a lobster is cooked, its shell’s color changes from blue to orange because the heat from cooking breaks down a protein which suppresses the orange hue of another chemical which is also present in the shell.

Resources

Encyclopedia of Life

www.lobsters.com

www.nationalgeographic.com

www.woodmans.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Week 49: Citrus Fruit

Variety of fruits

Citrus fruit and plants are known by the name agrumes, which means bitter fruit. Citrus fruit originated in Southeast Asia or Australia thousands of years ago. The three original species in the citrus genus that have been hybridized into most modern commercial citrus fruit are the mandarin orange, pummelo and citron. All common citrus fruits (sweet oranges, lemons, grapefruit, limes, and so on) were created by crossing those original species. Christopher Columbus, Ponce de Leon, and Juan de Grijavla carried various citrus fruits to the new world in the late 1400′s early 1500′s. Today Florida, California, Arizona and Texas are the major producers of citrus fruit in the United States.

Citrus fruit is grown on large shrubs or evergreen trees 15-40 feet tall which bear fragrant, white flowers. The trees thrive in a consistently sunny, humid environment with fertile soil and adequate rainfall or irrigation. The fruit has a peel (also called the zest), a bitter white pith and juicy segments with a discernibly tart flavor derived from a high level of citric acid. The fruit is ripened on the tree.

Medicinal Uses

Oranges were historically used for their high content of vitamin C, which prevents scurvy. An early sign of scurvy is fatigue. If ignored, later symptoms are bleeding and bruising easily. British sailors were given a ration of citrus fruits on long voyages to prevent the onset of scurvy, hence the British nickname of Limey.

The vitamin C in citrus fruit helps produce collagen, which provides structure and elasticity for your skin and tendons. As an antioxidant, it neutralizes free radicals before they damage healthy cells, which prevents inflammation that can lead to chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease.

After consumption, the peel is sometimes used as a facial cleanser.

Citrus fruit intake is associated with a reduced risk of stomach cancer. Also, citrus fruit juices, such as orange, lime and lemon, may be useful for lowering the risk of specific types of kidney stones. Grapefruit helps lower blood pressure because it interferes with the metabolism of calcium channel blockers.

Studies also show that citrus flavonoids may improve blood flow through coronary arteries, reduce the ability of arteries to form blood clots and prevent the oxidation of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, which is an initial step in the formation of artery plaques1.

Culinary Uses

Citrus fruit can be eaten fresh, made into or added to beverages, marmalade, used in salads, as garnishes, or squeezed over vegetables, seafood or meats.

Types of Citrus Fruit

bergamot orange

Bergamot orange – This is a small acidic orange, used mostly for its peel. Used in Earl Grey tea.

blood orange

Blood Orange – These are sweet, red fleshed oranges and are very popular in Europe.

tangerine

Clementine, Tangerine or Satsuma – Thin skinned and sweet, these come out of their skins easily.

calamansi

Calamansi lime – The very sour calamansi looks like a small round lime and tastes like a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. It’s very popular in the Philippines.

citron2

Citron – This lemon-like fruit may be the progenitor species of modern lemons and limes. The peel is very thick, and the white, spongy portion of the peel is edible.

grapefruit

Grapefruit – Grapefruit is thought to be a hybrid of pummelo and sweet orange that occurred naturally somewhere in the Caribbean between the time of Columbus’ voyages and its introduction to Florida in 1809. They are a large, slightly tart with a rind that is mostly yellow, and often tinged with green or red. Grapefruits are categorized by the color of their pulp: red, pink, or white.

Kaffir-Limes

Kaffir Lime – Thai cooks use these golf ball-sized limes to give their dishes a unique aromatic flavor.  Kaffir limes have very little juice, and usually just the zest is used.

key limes

Key Lime – These are small, round, and seedy, these turn yellow when ripe.

Kumquat

Kumquat – These look like grape-sized oranges, and they can be eaten whole. The flavor is a bit sour and very intenseThey peak in the winter months.

Lemon

Lemon – This very sour citrus fruit is rarely eaten out of hand, but it’s widely used for its juice, rind, and zest. One lemon yields about 2-3 tablespoons lemon juice.    Lime – When buying limes, select specimens that are dark green, smaller, thin-skinned, and heavy for their size.

Limes1

Lime – Small and green, limes have uses other than adorning your cocktails. Lime extracts and lime essential oils are also used in perfumes, cleaning products, and aromatherapy.Orange

Orange – Florida oranges are juicier, and better suited to squeezing, while California oranges segment more easily and are better for eating out of hand.

pomelo

Pummelo or Pomelo – This species originates from southeast Asia where it is as common as grapefruit is in the USA. It is much larger and thicker-peeled than grapefruit, but said to have milder flavor.

Seville orange

Seville or Bitter Orange – These are too bitter for eating out of hand, but they make a wonderful orange marmalade and the sour juice is perfect for certain mixed drinks.

tangelo

Tangelo (Honeybell )- This is a hybrid between tangerine and grapefruit. Large, bell-shaped, they are available during the winter and are very sweet and juicy.

ugli fruit2

Ugli Fruit – This grapefruit-mandarin cross looks like a grapefruit in an ill-fitting suit. It’s sweet and juicy, though, and simple to eat since the peel comes off easily and the fruit pulls apart into tidy segments that are virtually seedless.

 

Resources

www.ask.com

www.foodsubs.com

www.fruit-crops.com

www.healthyeating.sfgate.com

www.thefruitpages.com

Week 48: Beans and Lentils

Beans2

Are you thinking of trying a vegetarian diet in an effort to eat healthier? If you’re concerned about getting enough protein, add more beans to your meals. Beans and lentils are referred to as “pulses,” and are the fruit or seed of plants called legumes. Pulses are used for human and animal consumption or for the production of oils for industrial uses.

Many legumes have symbiotic bacterial that have nitrogen fixing abilities. When these plants die in the field, they can be plowed back into the soil and can serve as fertilizer for other crops.

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2016 as the International Year of Pulses to heighten public awareness of the nutritional benefits of pulses as part of sustainable food production aimed towards food security and nutrition.

History

Dried beans, peas and lentils have been cultivated for human consumption for ages. Archaeologists have discovered traces of bean cultivation in the Indus Valley that dates to 3300 BC. Meanwhile, evidence of lentil cultivation has also been found in Egyptian pyramids and dry pea seeds have been discovered in a Swiss village that are believed to date back to the Stone Age. Archaeological evidence suggests that these peas must have been grown in the eastern Mediterranean and Mesopotamia regions at least 5,000 years ago and in Britain as early as the 11th century.

Health Benefits

Beans are good sources of protein, excellent sources of fiber, and naturally fat-free, sodium-free, and cholesterol-free. Many types are also good sources of potassium. Beans have a low glycemic index.  This makes them an ideal food for the management of insulin resistance, or diabetes. Numerous scientific studies also show that eating beans helps lower blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend eating about 3 cups of legumes, including beans, per week.

Types of Beans

There are eleven basic categories of pulses:

  1. Dry beans, which include kidney beans, navy beans, pinto beans, lima beans, butter beans, adzuke and mung beans.
  2. Dry broad beans.
  3. Dry peas.
  4. Chickpeas or garbanzos.
  5. Dry cowpeas or black-eyed peas.
  6. Pigeon peas, Congo beans and gandules.
  7. Lentils
  8. Groundnuts and earth peas.
  9. Vetch.
  10. Lupins
  11. Miscellaneous minor pulses, like jack beans, yam beans and winged beans.

Preparation

Preparing dried beans takes a little more work than just opening a can, but the flavor and texture is superior to canned beans. First, spread them out on a table, kitchen towel or baking sheet and pick out any shriveled or broken beans, stones or debris. Rinse them well in cold, running water. When you soak them, you help remove some of those indigestible sugars that cause flatulence. So place the beans in a large bowl or pan, cover with water and soak overnight or for about 8 hours in the refrigerator. Rinse and them place them into a large pot and cover with 2 inches of water or stock. (Don’t add salt at this point since that slows the beans’ softening.) Slowly bring to a boil, skimming off any foam on the surface. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid if necessary, until beans are tender when mashed or pierced with a fork. Cooking times vary with the variety, age and size of beans; generally you’re looking at about 1 to 2 hours.

After sorting dried peas and lentils, bring 1½ cups water or stock to a boil for each cup of dried lentils or peas. Once the liquid is boiling add the lentils or peas, return to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, partially covered, until tender, 30 to 45 minutes.

Culinary Uses for Common Pulses

Adzuki Beans

These little dark red beans are sweet and easy to digest. Splash them with tamari and barley malt or mix them with brown rice, scallions, mushrooms and celery for dynamite, protein-rich rice patties

Black-Eyed Peas

These creamy white, oval-shaped beans are ubiquitous in southeastern US states where they’re a traditional New Year’s dish. Toss them with yogurt vinaigrette, tomatoes and fresh parsley.

Cannellini Beans

These are some of my favorites. Cannellini beans are packed with nutty flavor. Add them to tomato-based soups like minestrone or toss with olive oil and black pepper for a satisfying side dish.

Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans

This prominent ingredient in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and East Indian dishes — think hummus and falafel — has a mild but hearty flavor. Garbanzos are a good foil for strong spices like curry powder, cumin and cayenne pepper, so add them to salads, soups and pasta dishes

Great Northern Beans or Navy Beans

Think of these guys as big teddy bears; they’re the largest commonly available white bean, but they’re all soft and mild on the inside. These are great as baked beans or add them to soups and stews with longer cooking times.

Green Lentils

Ooh la la! These lentils hold their shape well and have deep, rich flavor. They’re an excellent addition to salads, spicy Indian dal or simple lentils and rice.

Green Split Peas

Give peas a chance! Split peas shine in soups where they’re cooked until creamy to bring out their full, sweet flavor. Serve them with a dollop of minted yogurt for an Indian touch.

Kidney Beans

These large, red beans are popular in chili, salads, soups and baked beans. Make sure to cook them until completely tender and cooked through to eliminate the gastric distress-causing toxin that’s present in raw and undercooked kidney beans.

Lima Beans

Thankfully, succulent lima beans are shedding their bad reputation as the food to force-feed kids. Add them to minestrone and other soups or combine them with corn and green beans for succotash

Lupini Beans

At Italian fairs and Spanish beer halls these beans are a popular snack. Technically a member of the pea family, these flat, coin-shaped, dull yellow seeds are second only to soybeans in plant protein content. Use caution when cooking! Lupini beans need a special extensive soaking and brining preparation to ensure removal of potentially harmful bitter alkaloids that occur naturally in the beans.

Mung Beans

You probably know mung beans for their sprouts, but the beans themselves are revered as a healing food. Mung beans range in color from greenish-brown to yellow to black and have delicate, sweet flavor. They need no pre-soaking, cook quickly and are easy to digest; you can’t go wrong.

Pinto Beans

A favorite in Southwest and Mexican dishes — “pinto” means “painted” in Spanish — these earthy beans have a delicious, creamy texture ideal for refrying. Combine with onions, chili powder, garlic and tomatoes as a filling for enchiladas or sauté cooked beans with olive oil, garlic and tamari.

Red Beans

These small, dark red beans are subtly sweet and hold their shape when cooked. They make a great choice for soups and chili and as a companion to rice.

Red Lentils

Don’t be fooled by the name; this variety of lentil isn’t really red. In fact, their soft pink color turns golden when cooked. Note that red lentils cook quickly and don’t hold their shape so they’re best in soups or purées or cooked until creamy with Italian seasonings

Split Peas

While green peas are picked while immature and eaten fresh, dried peas are harvested when mature, stripped of their husks, split and dried. Split peas don’t require presoaking and their mild flavor and creamy texture make good companions to garlic, onions, dill, curry and ginger.

Let’s get cooking!

Resources

www.beaninstitute.com

www.wholefoodsmarket.com