Dried beans are an important part of my healthy whole food diet and I make a pot of them every week or two to always have available as a side dish or entree. Full of fiber, minerals, vitamins and micronutrients, dried beans offer many health benefits. Though some people can suffer from digestive upset and gas after eating dried beans, this difficulty can usually be overcome with proper preparation to remove the offending sugar before they are eaten. How they are prepared can also add a lot of extra nutrition to an already healthy whole food.
Start by sorting the beans into a soaking pan and removing any stones, stems or other foreign matter. My preference is for mixed beans, four or five different varieties, to take advantage of the specific nutritional benefits of each type. Cover the beans by several inches(they will absorb quite a lot of water and expand as they do this) with cold water and allow to soak for at least four hours, preferably overnight, at room temperature. Drain and rinse the beans, then put them into the cooking pot(remember that they will still absorb more water and expand as they cook).
For this pot of beans I am adding coarsely chopped onion, whole garlic cloves, a small sliced carrot and parsnip, a few whole(stem removed) fresh poinsettia chile peppers, some dried sliced shiitake mushrooms and some wakame seaweed. All of these vegetables will contribute their own flavors and nutrients to the finished beans. These are all ingredients on hand at the time and I will also often add sliced celery, shallot, leek, fresh fennel, tomato, greens and/or other vegetables if they are available.
Dried herbs tend to stand up to long cooking times better than fresh herbs in this type of dish. This pot of beans is getting whole mustard, cumin and coriander seeds(I am a big believer in the nutritional power of seeds). I am also adding some dried oregano, thyme and basil. Herbs are also packed with health promoting compounds, which are what provide their strong flavors.
Then a whole fresh ham hock goes into the pot. The meat of the hock will provide a small amount of complete protein and add flavor. The fat and connective tissues will add flavor and nutrients that help support joint health. The bone provide a lot of flavor and nutrition from both the bone itself and from the marrow. This dish can easily be made vegan by simply leaving out the ham hock. Alternatives to hocks include bacon or salt pork(no added nitrates or nitrites, please), lamb, pork or beef neck bones and chicken or turkey gizzards and necks.
Add water to cover the beans by several inches and put on the stove at a medium heat. Allow the uncovered pot to come to a boil and reduce the heat to a low simmer. Stir the pot, turn the ham hock occasionally and cook until all of the beans are soft. Add more water in small amounts as needed so the beans don’t get dry and burn on the bottom of the pot. Eat what you want immediately and put the rest in storage containers for the refrigerator or freezer for another time.
If you have severe problems digesting beans, try cooking only one type of bean at a time. When the beans are done, drain them and rinse under running water. Then reheat with with a little water or broth and your favorite seasonings. This extra drain and rinse after cooking should remove the very last of any indigestible complex sugars.