How I replaced meat with beans
Healthy food in times of lock down
As far I can remember I always liked eating beans. My mother never used them as the main ingredient in any of her dishes, but they were never missing as tasty additions to her soups and salads.
I also remember where those beans came from: my grandmother grew them in her garden and kept our family well stocked with her produce. Every time my parents visited her, she would load our car with cases of fresh vegetables and fruits.
But besides these few words I cannot recall many memories involving beans or any other legume in particular.
Beans as a food appeared during my university years but only as a crucial component of my tacos during regular Mexican meals with a group of classmates. None of them was of Mexican origin, but there was a good Mexican place close to class and it quickly became our favorite meeting point to celebrate exams over tacos and tequila.
After graduation most of my tequila buddies moved out, either back to their countries or somewhere else looking for better jobs. My visits to our favorite Mexican restaurant became less frequent, until I eventually quit eating there and unintentionally stopped eating beans for many years.
Looking for a meat replacement
I recently rediscovered my love for legumes, not through a new group of party friends but because of an adult decision to improve my health.
Around November 2019, about three months before the Covid-19 outbreak, my girlfriend and I committed to eating less meat, with an extra effort to reduce our beef consumption. We do not intend to become vegetarians, but we aim to gradually reduce the consumption of animal proteins to improve our health.
We still eat steaks occasionally, but less often and only in those restaurants where we know the meat is worth “cheating” on our new diet.
But how did I actually manage to cook something quick and easy without buying a steak, burger, or fish fillet? Well I still have not figured it out completely as I now spend more time in the kitchen than before, regardless of the Covid-19 lock down.
I did try plant-based meat. This would have been a good fix for a fast vegetarian dinner, unfortunately it turned out to be a disappointment. I had vegan meals before and they never upset my stomach like that Beyond Burger did. Perhaps I bought a bad batch, or simply did not cook it the proper way. The fact remains that even without the digestion problems I would never buy those burgers again because I did not like their taste.
My disappointment with plant based meat convinced me that my vegetarian recipes should avoid using highly processed ingredients. Since then I’ve enjoyed tasty burger patties made from lentils, chickpeas and kimchi. I liked these because their taste was natural and their ingredients not overly processed. But I always thought of burgers as comfort food. Something I like to order on UberEats when I am lazy and feel like a Netflix binge.
Basically I was eating the ingredients I wanted to eat but in recipes I did not fancy cooking by myself. That’s when I started to look at purees, creams and soups.
One day last November I was given a small bag of sun dried tomatoes. My girlfriend received them as a gift from a friend who had just visited Italy. The friend happened to mention “try them with beans” but my girlfriend, who is not very passionate about cooking, refrained from finding out more about recipe details and simply passed that task onto me.
At this point I had never tried cooking beans before, but I enjoy cooking in general. I find it very relaxing to spend some time in the kitchen. Also: nothing beats the satisfaction from putting your own cooking on the table.
It took me a couple of attempts, but I did manage to nail a recipe that quickly became a weekly favorite. Especially since I am living in lock down and decided to stock up on beans to minimize runs to supermarkets.
An easy recipe: white beans puree with dried tomatoes
Ingredients (for 2 mains or 4 starters):
200 grams of dried white beans, (try cannellini beans if available)
One garlic clove
One small carrot, peeled
One small piece of celery (20 cm long)
Salt and pepper
8 dried tomatoes
Wash the beans and let them rest in cold water overnight. Make sure the water is at least 3 times the volume of the dried beans.
The next day drain the beans, place them in a large pan with a thick bottom and cover them with cold water. Add a peeled and crushed garlic clove, finely chopped half carrot, celery leg and a spoon of olive oil.
Place the dried tomatoes in a separate bowl and cover them with cold water to re-hydrate them
Let the beans boil for about a couple of hours until they become very soft. Keep them wet, water needs to be just enough to cover the beans.
Take the dried tomatoes out of the water and chop them finely
Transfer the beans (remove the garlic clove if you like) together with half of the sun dried tomatoes into a food processor and blend to a cream, add water if too thick.
Once you found the right thickness add salt to taste a give it one last mix.
Serve in a soup bowl with the remaining dried tomatoes, a spoon of olive oil, ground pepper and toasted whole grain bread.
Take your time and cook a healthy meal
The Coronavirus is having an impact on our social lives. We are forced to spend most of our time indoors and, once it will be over, we will only gradually resume the social life we once had.
Make the most of this time at home. Use it to relax, learn new skills and most importantly stay healthy. Being healthy has a lot to do with what we eat and I hope this recipe will give you some comfort in the coming weeks of lock down.