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Food lovers forget the Humble Bean Timely reminder an important one

MANY of the world’s food lovers fail to appreciate the humble bean and its important place in some of the world’s most renowned dishes.

Beans come in all shapes and sizes, textures and tastes, and have long been a staple in the diets of many world cultures, so I thought it was time to take a serious look at the world of beans.

Although the popularity of beans has outlasted many food fads over the years, how many of us have these delicious, versatile fellas on our weekly shopping list?

But, believe it or not, beans are growing in popularity in kitchens around Australia. As we leave the fancy nouveau cuisine scene behind and return to honest and reliable tucker, chefs across our great country are turning their attention to the dependable bean when creating menus gracing our restaurants.

Beans are very healthy and we still are a nation of (relatively) healthy eaters. Beans contain between 10 and 20 per cent of body-building proteins and they are full of complex carbohydrates – the ones that are good for you and ones you should eat in plentiful supply. Beans are not simply a vegetarian choice, many of the great traditional dishes of the world use beans, adding flavour and texture to stews, soups, dips and salads.

Bean dishes also have a role to play in nutritional, balanced eating. Beans can be eaten in a variety of ways, making them not only tasty and nutritious, but also cheap and convenient.

Long live the bean!

Let me refresh your pantry with a look at some of the more popular beans of the world. The next time you are at your favourite restaurant and the chef hasn’t got any beans, ask why not.

Black-eyed beans (they are actually peas). Much used in the south of the USA, where they formerly were a staple food source on the plantations. Earthy and chewy, they combine well with spinach. No pre soaking is needed, but don’t overcook them.

Broad beans (fava beans). These can be white or brown. The skins are quite tough and need to be removed after cooking. If you must you can buy them already skinned. Puréed with oil and lemon and a few herbs, these beans make a great dip. The Egyptians use them to form the basis of a falafel mixture.

Borlotti beans. Prized by the Italians as an addition to vegetable soup, these are often used in minestrone. They need to be soaked overnight and then boiled until tender.

Butter beans (also know as lima beans). These large beans have a nutty mild flavour and are great for stews, as they absorb sauces effectively.

Haricot beans. Also known as Boston navy beans, these were the principal ingredient in Boston baked beans – forerunner to the modern canned baked beans. Used by the French in cassoulet and by the Basques in a stew with pork and chorizo sausage.

Mung beans. Before sprouting, the mung bean has a succulent nutty flavour and adds texture to a stir-fry. Power packed full of vitamins and minerals. A mouthful of these little suckers is like downing a high-energy drink.

Pigeon peas (known a gunga beans in southern states of the US). Best known in other parts of the world, particularly India, for their use in yellow dahl, these beans have a strong and assertive flavour.

Red Kidney beans. The essential bean in most Mexican cooking and the oomph behind chilli con carne. You can find them in a can but in their natural state you will need to soak overnight and cook for around an hour or so.

Soya beans. These guys have to be the most versatile bean in the world. They provide oil and flour, which is milled from the bean and mixed with water to make a protein-rich milk, and bean curd. The soya bean is also fermented to make yellow bean sauce for your stir-fry. Soya beans were also were the guinea pigs from which TVP was derived – textured vegetable

protein.

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