Sometimes the amount of debate that still exists about whether or not a plant-based diet is better for our health boggles my mind. While I understand that a diet that is 100% vegan is not necessarily the way forward for everyone, I do believe that there’s so much benefit from more people eating mostly plant-based. From personal health to environmental health- there are so many advantages.
Culturally we love an all or nothing approach, when in reality this is rarely the best way to serve anything. Eating more plant-based doesn't mean that you'll never be able to have some of the foods you love ever again. The only catch is that once you start eating more plant-based, you'll be surprised how your cravings change!
One of the greatest additions to a plant-based diet is the humble bean. The fact that beans have become entangled in any debate of health is curious to me. How can the bean possibly be villainized? The healthiest cultures around the world have always consumed large quantities of beans and bean products. If you don't believe us, look to The Blue Zones for plenty of information regarding what our longest-lived cultures eat.
Part of the "problem" with beans (if there is a problem) is the misconception that they are impossible to digest and that they give everyone gas. We all know the song. I can assure you, that “the more you eat, the more you toot" isn't exactly accurate.
Beans are a unique food in that they are both a protein and a starch. A food that is high in fiber and high in protein. This combination is very unusual, and for that reason- if you aren't used to eating beans, they can seem like they are difficult to digest. The digestive discomfort that they are unfairly pinned with is mostly because we aren’t used to eating them in quantity in our culture. And, because we aren't used to eating them, we often combine them with foods they should never be eaten with (think baked beans and watermelon at a barbecue). Beans are best served very simply- with greens, and other starchy foods like grains or breads. This is the way cultures around the world eat and serve beans- in hundreds of different ways.
This simple wholesome approach to eating is what I come back to on a weekly (if not daily) basis. Whenever I see information that says otherwise, my red flags go up. Whole food staples that sustain us with nutrients and fill us up in a way that is healthy for our bodies and healthy for the planet with no fads involved, feels to me like the most logical dietary approach. Try what you will and question as you like, but for the healthiest people in the world, beans are a part of their diet.
So, I say... what better way to start a new year than a big pot of beans?
Growing up in the south, tradition for me was serving Hoppin' John with collard greens and rice on New Year’s Day. The beans are for luck, the greens are for money and the rice is for health. I believe it, love this dish, and don’t reserve eating it only for the beginning of the year.
Serve it with different condiments of your liking and you can have a meal that is really suited for whatever your mood. Add a little curry to make it untraditional. Hot sauce is a given. Vegan or regular sour cream is really good, and same for some cheese.
Let this meal be a symbol and a blessing.
HOPPIN' JOHN (OUR WAY) //
2 cups black eyed peas, rinsed and checked for debris. Cover with water, and soak overnight.*
When you are ready to cook the beans, rinse and drain. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes.
*You can cook beans without soaking them, it will just take longer. Black eyed peas will take about 1 hour to cook. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and simmer for approximately 1 hour.
When you soak fresh beans, like I did- many of them will start to lightly sprout overnight. I personally like this, and believe it makes them easier to digest- although that is in no way scientific!
Take care not to overcook the beans. You want them to hold their shape, so I recommend testing them every 10 minutes or so.
1/2 cup dried shiitakes, soaked in warm water for about 10 min, then diced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 red, or yellow bell pepper (or a combo), diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp tamari
1 heaping teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
While the beans are cooking and the shiitakes are soaking, sauté celery, bell pepper, and onion in about 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add garlic.
Once soft, add chopped shiitakes to the mix. Then add tamari, paprika and sea salt. You can use a little bit of the shiitake soak water to keep things moving. You want all the veggies to be super soft and salty. Traditional Hoppin' John has bacon, so this will be making up for that flavor.
Once the beans are cooked, drain any excess liquid. (You can save the bean juice for stock as it has great flavor)!
Add sautéed mixture to the beans and allow mixture to cool.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Season generously with salt and pepper. This makes enough to serve several times and will keep in the refrigerator for about 5 days. The longer it marinates the better it is! I love to serve it with rice and salad.