If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world
J. R. R. Tolkein
“Beans, beans, the musical fruit; the more you eat, the more you…”
Well, you get the idea. Beans are such a magically wonderful food though, aren’t they? Full of antioxidants, gut-healthy prebiotic fibers, protein and micronutrients, beans of all kinds pack a powerhouse of flavor and nutrition, and they can be enjoyed by vegans and non-vegans alike. This is the first time I’ve successfully been able to eat beans in about two years, as my digestive system hasn’t always been very accepting of them. You can only imagine how excited I am about the world of possibility that’s been set before me, just by incorporating this simple, yet delicious kitchen staple into my culinary repertoire.
So, what’s so great about beans, you might ask? I may have a few things in mind:
Beans and other legumes, such as lentils and peas, are a great source of quality plant-based protein. Protein is an important macronutrient that’s essential for the health of our muscles, bones, teeth, skin, hair and nails. It also plays a crucial role in various chemical reactions throughout the entire body. Navy beans, which are one of three different kinds of white beans, contain approximately 6 grams of protein per cup. One of my favorite ways to incorporate beans into my diet is to use them in place of either beef, chicken or fish in salads, soups, casseroles and chili.
Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is one of the eight water-soluble B vitamins that our bodies need for optimal health. It’s an especially important prenatal vitamin for pregnant women, as adequate levels of this nutrient help to prevent birth defects and other conditions, such as anencephaly, a malformed brain and skull, and spina bifida, or the incomplete development of the spine. A folate deficiency can also lead to megaloblastic anemia, in which a person’s red blood cell count is lower than normal, and the marrow in their bones produces megaloblasts, or large, abnormally structured red blood cells. One can easily obtain a sufficient amount of folate by consuming navy beans and other legumes, as well as dark, leafy green vegetables, fruits and nuts.
Like folate, iron, a trace mineral, is essential for the formation of healthy red blood cells. Beans have some of the highest levels of plant-based iron, also known as non-heme iron. Something very important to remember about non-heme iron is that it doesn’t absorb as easily and completely as heme iron, its animal-derived counterpart. If you follow an exclusively plant-based diet, to ensure that you’re getting the recommended daily amount of iron, consuming vitamin C-rich foods along with other foods containing non-heme iron will improve its absorption and make it easier for the body to use.
Vitamins & Minerals
Navy beans are also full of vitamins and minerals, namely, magnesium and molybdenum. The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements (2017), states, “Magnesium is a cofactor in more than 300 enzyme systems that regulate diverse biochemical reactions in the body, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation.” Because of its impact on muscle contraction and nerve impulse conduction, magnesium is also crucial in maintaining normal heart rhythm.
Molybdenum, another trace mineral, primarily acts as an antioxidant by producing and activating aldehyde oxidase. Aldehyde oxidase works specifically to rid the body of excess acetaldehyde, a toxic by-product of yeast and fungi produced during alcohol metabolism. Molybdenum may also be beneficial for people with asthma and other respiratory conditions, as it assists in breaking down sulfites, which are chemicals that are used to preserve the color and freshness of certain packaged foods. Sulfites have been known to trigger or worsen allergy-related or asthma-related symptoms in people who are sensitive to these chemicals.
Fiber is a unique carbohydrate in that it doesn’t break down into smaller molecules of glucose; thus, it doesn’t absorb through the digestive tract into the bloodstream like other nutrients. Instead, the fiber in certain foods remains almost completely intact as it passes through the gastrointestinal tract. One primary characteristic of fiber is its positive impact on hunger and blood sugar levels by slowing the absorption of the natural sugars present in whole foods.
According to the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health (2017), “Children and adults need at least 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day, but most Americans get only about 15 grams per day.” Beans, lentils and other legumes, as well as whole vegetables and fruits, are rich sources of fiber. There are two types of fiber that are equally important for optimal health: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. While soluble fiber dissolves in water, and helps regulate blood glucose and cholesterol levels, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve in water, and it promotes regularity by moving digested food particles through the gastrointestinal tract. To increase your intake of both soluble and insoluble fiber, in addition to beans and other legumes, it’s important to include a variety of whole plant foods, such as apples, bananas, blueberries, carrots, cauliflower, squash, tomatoes and zucchini (I’m sorry, but Skittles don’t count as part of this rainbow).
I always purchase all of my dried foods and spices in bulk at Natural Grocers, and I’m usually able to hit some pretty good sales on beans and lentils. The last time I bought navy beans, they were priced on sale at $2.63 for a 2-pound bag. Considering the fact that I’m only cooking for one, this was very affordable. I grabbed a few bags of both navy beans and green lentils, knowing that they were going to last me awhile and, ultimately, end up saving me money in the long run.
This recipe was initially born from my desire to create the perfect substitute for refried beans (unfortunately, pinto beans are a bit too starchy for my liking). I used navy beans this time around, since they have a relatively milder flavor compared to other types of beans, but I may experiment with a mixture of black beans, onions and tomatoes the next time I make them.
Mexican Navy Beans
6 cups water
2 cups navy beans, soaked and drained
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1 tbsp cold-brew coffee
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp chipotle seasoning
Pinch of black pepper
Soak the beans for 24 hours in a large bowl with just enough water to cover them. After 24 hours, using a colander, drain and rinse the beans to remove the starch.
In a medium saucepan, bring the beans and water to a boil, keeping a watchful eye on the pot. After a few minutes, a thick, white foam will begin to appear on the surface of the water. Scrape the foam off and discard it in the sink until there’s none left, but don’t worry if you can’t get all of it. When the foam has been removed, reduce to medium heat, cover and let it cook for at least 8 hours. You can cook it for a longer period of time, depending on the desired consistency. Stir occasionally (every 30 minutes or so) to prevent the beans from sticking to the pan.
Once 8 hours have passed, test the beans to ensure that they’re the right consistency, which should be soft, but still slightly firm.
When the beans are done, turn off the burner and move the pot off the stove. Let the beans cool for about 30 minutes. At this point, if needed, drain off most, but not all, of the water. You want the beans to have a thicker, less soupy consistency, but still have some moisture.
Stir in the vegetable broth, coffee, salt, cayenne, cumin, paprika, chipotle seasoning and black pepper.
Store the beans in glass containers (I like using mason jars, but you can use any kind of glass container) and place them in the refrigerator. I typically allow food to stay in the refrigerator for up to a week before throwing it out.
Resist inhaling the entire pot of beans in one sitting. If you’re anything like me, then this will be almost impossible.
Et voilà! A scrumptious bowl of Mexican navy beans!
- Throughout the 24-hour period when the beans are soaking, the water level will decrease as the beans absorb the excess water. Just add more water and give it a light stir to make sure the beans are completely submerged.
- Let the beans cook for the full 8 hours before adding in any other ingredients or seasonings, as this may cause the beans to become tough, making them more difficult to digest.
- When adding in the spices, I find it a lot easier to mix them together in a bowl beforehand and stir the mixture into the beans, instead of incorporating each spice separately.
- Play around with the ingredients! Add more of this, use more of that, or substitute or omit any ingredients you want to make this recipe your own. Eat these as a main dish with a side of sautéed greens; as a filling for burritos, enchiladas or tacos; or all on their own, which is my personal favorite.