Beans, .. Beans, .. Beans, .. Beans…
Chickpeas, .. Lentils, .. SplitPeas, …
Frugal, Staple, Healthy Food…
(c) 2014, Davd
Perhaps you know that marching song:
“They’re good for your heart
The more you eat, the more you [ahem .. this site is restricted to PG-13 language*]
And when you [ahem] you feel so fine!
So eat those beans up every time…
Well, all you kiddies chanting as you hike, or riding the bus to ski or hockey camp, i’m hoping along with you, that those beans, chickpeas, lentils, and green and yellow peas are indeed good for all our hearts. For the past few years, i’ve eaten meatless mid-day meals most days—over 90% of the days of 3-5 years. There are several good reasons for eating [beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas] most days, and [ahem]ing isn’t among those good reasons.
Appreciating meat more by having meals without it—is. By eating lunches of black beans with bay and onion, chili-sin-carne, pintos with chili powder and oregano, chickpeas gurdwara-style, split pea soup with bacon or ham, and curried lentils, i include several flavour combinations in my diet beyond those of beef, chicken, [white] fish, pork, and salmon. That makes my meat meals more enjoyable because they are less “routine”.
It also saves me a serious bit of money, and no small amount of time.
When i cook up a breakfast of pork chop or ham slice and porridge, the meat cooking effort serves me for one meal and the porridge effort serves me for three. When i cook chicken cacciatore for dinner, the meat cooking effort serves me for two meals and the pasta effort serves me for three. When i cook up a pot of beans, chickpeas, lentils, or pea soup, it usually provides the high protein part of 3-7 meals**. Legumes [in the botanical rather than the French usage***of the word] are especially valuable as food because they are high in protein, and their protein complements grain protein well: Pea soup and bread or popcorn, beans and rice or barley, curried lentils and whole-wheat bread, any of them with rice or barley heated in salsa, and you’ve a meatless meal that gives you a decent, adequate amount of protein toward your day’s needs.
Cooking all these dry legumes follws the same basic pattern; but soaking times and seasonings vary with the size, texture, and taste of the different crops. I’ll use pea soup as the example this time, and soon, i’ll post some variations for lentils and a few major kinds of beans.
The basic pattern is:  Soak with savory,  add a little soda for quicker cooking,  season with herbs (and perhaps smoked fat),  bring to boiling [stirring down foam in some cases] and  simmer until the texture is “done”. It can be completed in a half day with peas and lentils and needs almost a full day (i usually work by soaking overnight and cooking in the morning) in the case of black, “chili”, and pinto beans. Don’t expect to cook dry legumes from scratch in an hour or two.
German cooking has some important wisdom for us about beans, peas and lentils: Savory [Satureja hortensis and S. montana] improves the flavour of all the dry legumes and should be added to the soaking water. German cooks call the Saturejas, Bohnenkraut [bean herb]. Some cookbook i read over the years, said they also reduce beans’ tendency to cause [ahem]ing. Whether or not they do that, i’m satisfied with their good effect on the taste. S. montana [“Winter savory”] is perennial and i’ve found it easier to grow than S. hortensis—which most cooks believe has the finer flavour for elegant dishes. For soaking legumes, i use S. montana.
To start a pot of pea soup, then, measure a volume of “split peas” one-eighth or less as large as the volume of the pot you’ll use, into that pot or some container that can take some heat. Then measure 3-4 times that volume of water (or vegetable stock) into another pot, add some savory if you have savory, and bring it to the boil. If you have added savory, lower the heat as when making coffee or sausage soup, and simmer for 5-10 minutes. Then turn off the electricity if you used an electric stove, and pour the boiling water onto the peas. (You can also put the peas in a bowl or other holding container, heat the water in the pot you’ll use to cook the soup, and pour in the peas when it’s ready.)
Next, let the dry peas soak up water for 2-3 hours. (Black, chili/kidney, and pinto beans should soak 8-12 hours—“overnight”, usually—and can soak for a full 24-hour day without harm. Peas and lentils should soak no longer than overnight, though in a cool room they may tolerate up to 24 hours.) When they’re ready, they will have visibly swelled and there will be much less water on top of them.
While soaking, legumes have some tendency to become acid, and acid legumes take much longer to cook. Therefore—for cooking speed and not because you want more sodium in your diet—add some baking soda to the peas when you put them in the pot to cook (or if they soaked in that same pot, when they’re about to go on the heat.) Stir the soda in well, and you might see some bubbles—you almost certainly will see some foam when they near the boiling point.
While heating the peas in their soaking stock, fry some onion in ham or bacon fat [or vegetable oil if you abstain from meat or from pork]. If you do abstain from meat or from pork, i suggest getting some smoked-soy-protein [imitation bacon] to add instead, at least for one try; but it is not necessary. Onion is pretty well necessary; and seems to me to go best if lightly browned, preferably in smoked fat. In summer, you might prefer chives—which should not be fried [duuuuuuuhhh].
If you don’t use ham or bacon fat, nor imitation bacon, then adding a bit of thyme might give the pea soup a little extra vigor.
As the peas come to a boil, they are likely to “foam up”, and stirring the pot will help to work down the foam. This is not a food to put on the stove at high heat and then leave for a half hour—you’re likely to come back to burnt foam around the bottom of the pot, and a somewhat unpleasant smell in the kitchen. If you keep watch on the pot of peas as they heat, you can probably do some other chores near by, but choose chores that you can put down to stir the pot and adjust the heat.
Also, choose a pot that the soup fills about half way, two-thirds at the most, so there is some room for the foam as the peas approach boiling. When they start to boil, and you’ve reduced the heat to what keeps them simmering (boiling slowly and gently), the foam should disappear or reduce to a very thin layer at the top of the soup.
If you add salt to the pot before tasting, err on the “light” side—put in less salt rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves into the soup.
You might also want to add a bit of liveche or celery leaves and trimmings, if you have either; and perhaps some pepper. Myself, i suggest you try some of the celery-liveche flavour while the soup is cooking; but hold the pepper until you eat your first bowlful (because it doesn’t need to cook into the peas and broth the way celery does, for full value.) If adding pepper after cooking pleases you, you can add some during cooking next time. As with salt, err on the “light” side in adding celery or pepper—put in less rather than more. You can add more later; you can’t subtract it once it dissolves into the soup.
As an estimate, pea soup will take half an hour to an hour to “cook down”. Cook it until the peas “mush” to a smooth consistency. As the peas become obviously soft, but have a while to cook yet, take out a half spoonful, set it on the stove top to cool, and then taste. (I keep an upside-down jar lid or a tiny saucer near the back of the stove top as a “spoon rest”.) Then, if you want to add celery, salt, or pepper, they will have some time to merge with the soup.
When they are “mushing”, peas may start to stick to the bottom of the pot. You can feel them starting to stick with a spoon … stir often enough that the soup, as it cooks, doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot .. which means, the hotter the element, flame, or woodstove top, the more stirring. If the sticking gets really difficult .. they’re probably done
Pea soup is an economical protein balancer for bread or boiled grain, hearty enough to satisfy, warming and comforting in cold weather. It, and beans and lentils cooked as i’ll describe soon, should be regulars in a frugal and especially in a semi-vegetarian diet. I normally have grain and legumes, with no meat, for my mid-day meal, which is the meal i most often “don’t want to take much time cooking.” In the summer especially, i can take out cooked beans, lentils, or pea soup, cut some bread, heat rice or barley in salsa, or perhaps fry chapatis [whole-wheat-flour tortillas] and be fed and back to work in jig time.
I’m planning to make the next ‘post’ a description of the different timing that cooking beans requires, and seasonings for black and pinto beans. Later i’ll describe curried lentils (which for timing and consistency, cook like peas rather than like beans), a hot South Asian style of cooking chickpeas, and how to make good chili without meat.
The pea-family of large edible seeds, like the grains which are large edible seeds of the grass family, provides good staple food at relatively low cost. Once you’ve cooked any of these seasoned legume foods a few times and can reliably make it taste the way you want, you can take it to potlucks and—in this age of commercially seasoned “pre-cooked foods”—you are likely to get as much appreciation as if you’d brought something much more expensive. Commercial seasoning tends to be bland and timid. The herbs i use with these legumes, are not—only the chickpeas in South Asian style are “hot”, but good herbs used with a fairly generous hand, give a strong savoury flavour that really improves peas, lentils, and beans…
.. whether or not you [ahem]… and on the modest amounts potluck guests usually take of any one thing, they pretty likely won’t.
* .. and millions of boys and girls younger than 13 have sung “f..t” on hikes and even tour buses, but perhaps the Net Nanny is prissier than they are…..
** To re-heat pea soup, i use a small stainless-steel bowl with a wide bottom, which i sit on a less-hot part of the woodstove top. Those of you who use electric stoves only could use a small stainless steel frying pan on very low heat, a “double boiler”, or the microwave if you have one.
*** en-Français, legumes refers to what Anglophones call vegetables. Botanically, legumes refers to the pea-family of plants, whose roots host bacteria that can fix nitrogen from the air in the soil, into forms that plants can take in and utilize. Beans, chickpeas, lentils, and peas are high in protein that complements grain protein well, because of those bacteria hosted by the roots of the plants that produced them.