Are you looking to find some delicious ways to increase the fibre content of your diet? Maybe you want to reduce the amount of meat your family is consuming. The solution is simple and inexpensive. You can turn to beans and pulses, and the place to find some wonderfully creative recipes is the new book Spilling the Beans: Cooking and Baking with Beans and Grains Everyday (Whitecap, $25) by Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan.
Julie Van Rosendaal lives in Calgary, where she hosts CBC Radio's The Calgary Eyeopener. She is best buddies with fellow Calgarian Sue Duncan, who has since been transplanted to the Okanagan Valley. The two cooking comrades have spent a lot of time in the kitchen together and got to chatting about beans one day and they quickly realized they had an idea for a cookbook.
"We were talking about how beans are so neglected and people have no clue what to do with them," says Rosendaal, "With all our technology, we're intimidated by the idea of pouring water over beans and letting them soak. You give most people a pound of beef or chicken and they know what to do with it, give them a cup of dry lentils and they don't know where to start."
They wanted to make sure that they were producing a cookbook for "the average joe," someone who wants to eat in a healthy way but for whom vegetarianism might be too big a leap.
Sue Duncan points out that most of the recipes contain some meat, like a sausage or a lamb shank, but they are designed to accommodate everyone, so some are vegetarian, but they are for the most part flexible enough to add or remove meat and still get a tasty result.
They were also looking to incorporate beans into baked goods so they could boost the nutrition of desserts and snacks. Rather than using bean and pulse flours, they found it was easy to just purée canned beans and add them into their recipes. Even lentils work well.
"When you put them in cookies or muffins or oat scones, they just look and taste exactly like oats," says Van Rosendaal. "And combined with the flour it boosts the protein in baked goods."
The best advice from Van Rosendaal and Duncan is not to get too hung up on the kinds of beans you can get. They say that sometimes, bins and bags of dried beans can be mislabelled but it doesn't really matter. Most beans are interchangeable in most recipes, especially white beans, which are not strongly flavoured.
It is perfectly all right to use a slow cooker overnight to soak beans. Just remember to use plenty of water and don't overfill your crock.
The authors did a few tests and discovered that when they cooked pre-soaked beans alongside beans that had been soaked overnight, the unsoaked beans only took about a half hour longer to cook than the soaked beans.
Canned beans are the ultimate fast food. If sodium is a concern, thorough rinsing will remove about 40 per cent of the salt and after that, you can adjust the seasonings in your dish.
And finally, as Van Rosendaal pointed out, beans are a better source of fibre than most whole grains, are high in protein and since they are a major prairie crop, they make it easy to eat locally produced food, even in winter.
Here are three recipes from Spilling the Beans by Julie Van Rosendaal and Sue Duncan. You can visit Julie Van Rosendaal's blog at www.dinnerwithjulie.com
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Loaf Cake
Pumpkin and lentils fit right into this moist, mildly spiced loaf-sort-of-cake, studded with chocolate chips. This loaf freezes well.
60 ml (1/4 cup) dry red lentils
625 ml (21/2 cups) all-purpose flour
250 ml (1 cup) sugar (white or brown)
7.5 ml (11/2 tsp) ground cinnamon
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) ground ginger
5 ml (1 tsp) baking powder
5 ml (1 tsp) baking soda
1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt
398 ml (14 oz) can puréed pumpkin
125 ml (1/2 cup) canola oil
125 ml (1/2 cup) buttermilk, thin plain yogurt, or milk
3 large eggs
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla
125 to 250 ml (1/2 to 1 cup) chocolate chips, chopped walnuts or pecans, or a combination
Preheat the oven to 175C (350F). Spray two 20 x 10 cm (8 x 4 inch) loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray.
In a small saucepan, cover the lentils with water by an inch or two and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until soft. Drain.
In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, spices, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the lentils, pumpkin, oil, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla; pulse until well blended and smooth.
Add the wet ingredients to the dry along with the chocolate chips and stir just until combined. Scrape into the prepared pans and bake for an hour, until the tops are cracked and springy to the touch. Cool on a wire rack. Makes 2 loaves.
White Bean Risotto with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Spinach & Parmesan
If you can cook oatmeal, you can make risotto. Adding a sausage at the beginning changes the flavour of the dish, making it more substantial; leaving it out results in a lighter dish with a more predominant lemon flavour.
Pearl or pot barley work as risotto as well, just expect to cook it for twice as long.
Olive or canola oil, for cooking
15 ml (1 tbsp) butter (plus more, if you like)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 fresh chorizo or Italian sausage (optional)
500 ml (2 cups) Arborio (short-grain) rice
1.5 L (6 cups) low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock, warmed
250 ml (1 cup) cooked white beans, or half a 540 ml (19 oz) can, rinsed and drained
2 to 3 sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained and chopped (optional)
125 to 250 ml (1/2 to 1 cup) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Juice of 1 lemon
250 ml (1 cup) packed fresh spinach leaves, torn or roughly chopped, and/or a small handful of fresh basil, torn or chopped
In a medium-large saucepan, heat a drizzle of oil with the butter over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion and sausage (squeezed out of its casing), if you're using it, until the onion is soft and the sausage is no longer pink (break it up with a spoon). Add the rice and cook for a minute, just to coat the grains with the oily juices.
Add about 125 ml (1/2 cup) of stock and cook, stirring, until it's absorbed. Continue adding stock 125 to 250 ml (1/2 to 1 cup) at a time and cook, stirring (it doesn't have to be constantly, just frequently) until it absorbs the liquid. When it's all used up (it should take about 30 minutes), the grains should be soft. If they still have a crunchy core, just add a little more water or stock. Add the beans along with the last addition of stock.
When the rice is cooked and it's nice and creamy, stir in the sun-dried tomatoes, cheese, lemon juice, spinach, and, if you like, another blob of butter. Stir until the cheese melts and the spinach wilts. Serve immediately. Serves 6.
These are easy to stir together and no one will have a clue that you've smuggled beans into them. Leftovers can be frozen and reheated in the toaster or packed in kids' lunches to eat by hand. To boost fibre and nutrients even further, add a spoonful of ground flaxseed to the dry ingredients.
250 (1 cup) all-purpose or whole wheat flour
60 ml (1/4 cup) cornstarch
15 ml (1 tbsp) sugar
2.5 ml (1/2 tsp) baking powder
1 ml (1/4 tsp) baking soda
1 ml (1/4 tsp) salt
250 ml (1 cup) rinsed and drained canned white beans (half a 540 ml /19 oz can)
375 ml (1 1/2 cups) buttermilk
60 ml (1/4 cup) canola oil
1 large egg
5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla
In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cornstarch, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
In the bowl of a food processor, purée the beans with 125 ml (1/2 cup) of the buttermilk and the oil, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Add to the dry ingredients along with the remaining cup of buttermilk and whisk just until combined.
Spray your waffle maker with non-stick cooking spray, preheat it, and cook the batter according to your machine's specifications. Serve immediately or keep warm, uncovered, in a 95C (200 F) oven. Makes about 6 big Belgian-style waffles.