Chef Essig's Featured Item of the Week

beansBeans & Legumes

Keeping up with new information on healthy eating habits can be overwhelming to individuals interested in watching diet and health. Most often, the newest discoveries come from knowledge that we have somehow forgotten. A staple of the human diet has always included beans.

Beans are one of the most widely distributed crops around the world. With over 4000 varieties on record in the United States alone, it is definitely one of the most diverse as well. Some of the earliest civilizations (such as the Inca, Aztec, and Mayan) were using beans, not only in their diets, but also in ceremonies. In almost every country around the world, you will find beans or dishes that contain beans that identify a culture.

  • Soy beans (often associated with China and Japan) are used for a wide variety of dishes including the production of Tofu. The Soy bean is now the second largest commercial crop in the United States next to corn -- demonstrating how a variety of bean can change geographical locations and economies.
  • Throughout the Middle Eastern countries, you will find wide use of chickpeas (for humus), fava beans, and lentils.
  • Fava beans and lentils can be found in Italian cooking as well. Cannellini, borlotti, and a variety of Tuscan white beans can be found throughout Italy used in Pasta Fagioli, served cold in salads, added to meat dishes, stirred into risotto, or just drizzled with olive oil and herbs.
  • Lentils and other beans are used in India to make hundreds of styles of dhal or dishes where beans are a major component.
  • In France you can find Cassoulet, bean soups, and many styles of gratins and casseroles using flageolet beans and other varieties.
  • In Brazil, the national dish called Feijoada is a stew based on beans. That dish takes its heritage from another country (Africa) where beans are important.
  • African slaves brought along their tradition of eating basic bean stews, and when in Brazil, these dishes evolved with other cultural influences creating a dish that would provide energy to last through a hard day’s work. Beans are cooked so long that they almost dissolve in the stew.
  • Native Americans realized the importance of beans in agriculture and diet by planting the three sisters... corn, squash, and beans. Rhizobium bacteria in the roots of legume plants fixes nitrogen in soil that grain crops deplete. By successive planting, this partnership allowed continued production of a piece of land and provided for sustainable agriculture.

beansBeans contain more fiber and protein than any other vegetable. The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends eating at least three cups of legumes every week. In new information by the USDA’s MyPyramid.gov, beans appear twice. They are listed in the meat and beans group for their protein and iron content -- and also in the vegetable group for their fiber, potassium, foliate, and antioxidant content. Increasing consumption of beans and legumes has been linked to a decrease in heart disease and cancer rates.

Is there a difference between a bean and a legume? Absolutely! Beans and legumes are both plants, but beans are actually a type of legume. Legumes are a type of vegetable that includes beans -- as well as peas and lentils.

beansDining Services offers a wide variety of legumes in many areas of the dining room. Look over all the toppings at the salad bar, and you can always find hummus and some type of cooked bean togo on your salad. There are also many types of bean salads on the menu. You can find beans in many ofour soups, stews, side dishes, and entrees. (We even have a wonderful spice cake that uses pureed pinto beans to add moisture; the fact that it adds nutrition is a bonus!) Some of the unique bean varieties to look for on the menu are anasazi beans, Peruvian lima beans, flageolet, and perano beans (also called mayocoba beans). Some of these are considered heirloom varietals and can provide a unique and different experience if you have never tried them.

As we end this semester and start the year anew, a lucky tradition to bring prosperity for the New Year is to eat Black Eyed Peas. If it doesn’t bring you prosperity, it sure couldn’t hurt to bring you better health.

Wishing Everyone a Happy Holiday and Great New Year,

Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA

Bon Apetit!

Executive Chef Aran Essig, CEC, CCA

Information gathered from: ehow.com, answerbag.com, and other sources

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