Saturday, May 13, 2006

Azuki Bean Soup

Beans. Now that's a touchy subject. Beans have been a bit maligned in the last decades' diet fads, particularly low-carb regimes; they defy the neat and tidy categorization of food that's "good for you" because it either has "just carbs" or, for folks who have more purist tendencies, "just protein". They don't allow you to neatly separate starch from protein; they deceive us. Why, cries the low-carb dieter, have we been told since childhood that beans are a good source of protein? They have so many carbs. More than protein. In fact, their composition is not all that different from whole grains. We can't have them. Let's bite into some more red meat.

No offense to the low-carb folks - and I know these regimes work really well for some folks - but beans are wonderful food. Yes, like many other foods, they contain a mixture of carbs and proteins. And also various vitamins, and minerals, and antioxidants. And they come in so many varieties, and are so versatile, and tasty.

The other common complaint against beans is their contribution to, well, the air quality in the room. Many folks suffer from flatulence after eating beans, particularly the larger varieties. Several pieces of advice have been offered for this solution; eating only fermented beans, soaking the beans well before cooking them (always a good idea as it shortens the cooking time), taking enzymes with the beans. I find that what works for me is, usually, eating beans on their own, or, if absolutely necessary, with just one type of whole grain. Combining beans with grains works better with the smaller types of beans, like lentils, mung beans and azuki beans; the larger ones I try to eat by themselves.

The following soup - all complete with this week's selection of chubeza vegetables - is a great showcase for a tiny red bean - the azuki bean. Used extensively in Asian cooking as sweet red bean paste, azuki is rich in protein, as well as in iron, calcium and potassium (good for foot cramps). This nontraditional way of serving it has a soothing, earthy flavor, and works on its own as a soup or a hearty stew.

Azuki Bean Soup

2 cups azuki beans, preferrably pre-soaked in water for about 2-3 hours
3 carrots
3 zuccinis
2 turnips
1 beet
2 quarts of water or vegetable broth
1 garlic bulb
2 bay leaves
optional: 2 tablespoons of miso soup

If beans have been soaked, discard the water. Slice all vegetables into large, rustic cubes. Place them in a big pot with the water or vegetable broth, garlic and bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Then, cover the pot and let simmer for about an hour. If you wish, mix in two heaping tablespoons of miso at the end of cooking. If not sensitive to food combinations or wheat, eat with thick slices of whole wheat bread, or on top of mashed potatoes.

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