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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Beans:

Bean is a common name for the large plant seeds used for human food or animal feed of several genra of the family "Fabaceae" (alternately called "leguminosae"). It originally referred to the seed of the broad or fava bean.  Native Americans often grew beans alongside corn and squash referring to the trio as the "Three Sisters".  The corn stalk acted as support for the beans.  In more recent times the so called "bush bean" has been developed which does not require support and has all its pods develop simultaneously rather than gradually.  This makes the "bush bean" more practical for commercial production.  

Dry beans come from both the Old World variety of broad beans (fava beans) and the New World varieties of kidney, black, cranberries (not to be confused with the fruit), pinto and navy/haricut beans.  Beans are a heliotropic plant , meaning that the leaves tilt throughout the day to face the sun.  At night they go into a folded "sleep" position.   Beans, of course, are members of the "legume" family, plants that contain several seeds in a pod and grow on bushes or vines.  

My first memories of beans were at my grandpa's store.  They were one of the items that was displayed on the outside stand.  They were in a bushel basket that had its bottom filled so that there was only a 2 inch deep area to fill with beans.   They were fava beans and I remember being told they were "good eating".   It's funny how that stays with me.  In later years in the supermarkets I did not see too many fresh beans.  They would have fresh black eyed peas  in a cellophane package around the New Year.   Most of the beans people buy and eat today are either canned or dried.

Beans are the world's most significant source of vegetable protein.   Beans also contain antioxidants, complex carbohydrates, folate, and iron.  Beans have significant amounts of fiber and soluble fiber with one cup providing between nine and thirteen grams of fiber.  Soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol and increase good cholesterol.

Currently there are about 40,000 bean varieties, although only a fraction are mass produced for regular consumption.  The world's largest producers of beans are India, Brazil, Burma, Peoples Republic of China, and the U.S.

Here is a short list of commonly found in the supermarket beans with their typical uses:

  • Adzxuki beans: (also known as field peas or red oriental beans)  Used in soups, sweet bean paste, and Japanese and Chinese dishes.
  • Anasazi beans: (also known as Jacob's cattle beans)  Used in soups and Southwestern dishesand can be used in recipes that call for pinto beans.
  • Black beans: (also known as cowpeas)  Used in soups, stews, rice dishes and Latin American cuisine.
  • Chickpeas: (also known as garbanzo or ceci beans)  Used in casseroles, hummus, minestrone soup and Spanish and Indian dishes.
  • Edamame: (also known as green soybeans)  Used in snacks, salads, casseroles and rice dishes.
  • Favas beans: (also know as broiad or horse beans)  Used in stews and side dishes
  • Lentils: Used in soups, stews, salads, side dishes and Indian dishes.
  • Lima beans: (also known as butter or Madagascar beans)  Used in succotash, casseroles, soups, and salads.
  • Kidney beans: (also called red kidney beans or white kidney beans)  Used in salads, stews, chili and rice dishes.
  • Soy nuts: (also known as roasted soybeans or soya beans)  Used for snacks or garnish for salads.

So... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.


Simple but good:

Easy Pasta Fasul

2     cloves garlic, chopped
1/2  small yellow onion, chopped 
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 can Cannellini beans (15.5 oz )
1 can Italian diced tomatoes (14.5 oz.)
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top.
1/2 cup ditalini, cooked

In a hot pan put 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.  Add chopped garlic and onion.  Sprinke with salt and pepper.  Sautee' until soft, about 2 minutes.  Drain and rinse can of Cannellini beans.  Add to pan and stir for a couple of minutes  so the beans will pick up the garlic and onion flavor.  Add the can of tomatoes including liquid.  Stir and cook for a few minutes so as to heat throughout.  Add ditalini and stir.   Cook a couple more minutes to make sure it is heated throughout.   Serve hot and garnish with Parmesan cheese. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Coconuts


Coconuts:

The coconut palm (cocos nucifera) is a member of the palm family.  The term "coconut" can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit.  The coconut, botanicaally speaking,  is actually  a drupe rather than a nut.  The term comes from 16th century Portugese and Spanish "coco" meaning "head" or "skull"from the three indentations on the coconut that resemble facial features.    Coconuts are found throughout the tropics and subtropical areas.   Coconuts are different from any other fruit because they contain a quantity of "water" inside their shell.

The coconut has three layers.  The outermost layer which is smooth with a greenish color is called the exocarp.   The fibrous husk which ultimately surrounds the hard woody layer is the mesocarp.  The hard woody layer which surrounds the seed is the endocarp.  In the coconuts you find in the store the exocarp and mesocarp are removed and you see only the endocarp.

As the coconut develops its endosperm is initially in its nuclear phase suspended within the coconut water.  As development continues cellular layers of endosperm deposit along the walls of the coconut becoming the edible coconut flesh.  When dried the coconut flesh is called copra.  The oil and milk derived from it are commonly used in cooking and frying.  Coconut oil is also widely used in soaps and cosmetics.  The clear liquid coconut water within the coconut is a refreshing drink.

The coconut palm is grown throughout the tropics for decorating as well as for its culinary and nonculinary uses.  Virtually every part of the coconut palm can be used by humans in some manner and has significant economic value.   Coconut palms are grown in more than 80 countries.  In the U.S. coconut palms can be grown and reproduced outdoors without irrigation in Hawaii, southern Florida and the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Coconut seeds provide oil for cooking and frying and making margarine.  The white fleshy part of the seed, the coconut meat, is used fresh or dried in cooking confections and desserts.  Coconut milk is frequently used in curries and savory dishes.  Coconut flour has been developed for use in baking to combat malnutrition.  Dried coconut is used in the filling if many chocolate bars.    Coconut water contains sugar, dietary fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and provide isotonic electrolyte balance.  In fact during WW II  coconut water was used as an  IV drip.

Growing up I first remember eating coconut at my maternal grandmother's.  She always had such a variety of different fruits and vegetable in the house.  Some years later while still living in New York my parents brought back a whole coconut from a trip to Florida.  I had never seen the green outer layer before.   I  tried to cut and peel that fibrous layer to get down to the layer I was used to seeing, but I ended up with a hacked up mess in the end.  One for the coconut; zero for Tom!

Published studies in medical journals show that coconuts in one form or another may provide a wide range of health benefits.  Coconut can kill viruses  such as influenza, herpes, measles, and hepatitis C.   It kills bacteria that causes ulcers, throat infections, urinary tract infections, gum disease and cavities.  It can kill fungi and yeasts.   The husks and shells can be used for fuel and are a source of charcoal.  Coconuts are used in the beauty industry in moisturizers and body butters, because coconut oil is readily absorbed by the skin.

Fresh coconut is available year round, but peak season is October through December.  Select a coconut that is heavy.  Shake it and listen for the liquid sloshing around inside.  There are 3 "eyes" or indentations fairly close together on the shell. This is where the coconut is softest and thinest.  There should be no moisture or smell of fermentation around the "eyes".    Coconuts will keep at room temperature for 3 - 4 weeks.  They'll last even longer in the refrigerator but the water inside will dry up.   Once opened a coconut must be wrapped and refrigerated and it will only keep for 2 - 3 days.   To store longer you can grate it then freeze it, or dehydrate it and store tightly covered.

To prepare a coconut drive a screwdriver or nail into the "eyes and drain the liquid.  Then place the coconut in an oven at 250 - 325 degrees F. and roast for about 15 minutes.  This will make the shell easier to crack and cause the flesh to shrink slightly away from the shell.  Remove the coconut from the oven and tap it with a hammer and it should break easily, and the shell should be easy to remove.

Fresh coconuts are in the Produce department but you will also find shredded coconut with baking goods.  Look some more and you will also find coconut milk, coconut water, and coconut oil.  It's all great and  good for you stuff.

So.... Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.



Friday, February 7, 2014

Brussels Sprouts


Brussels Sprouts:

The Brussels sprout is a variety of cabbage grown for its edible buds.  The Brussels sprout has long been popular in Brussels, Belgium and may have originated there.   Brussels sprouts are cruciferous vegetables in the same family as collard greens, broccoli, kale, and kohlrabi.  Brussels sprouts grow clustered on a thick stalk but are most often sold loose or packaged in pint size cartons. 

Production of Brussels sprouts in the U.S. began in the 18th century, when French settlers brought them to Louisiana.  Thomas Jefferson grew them at Monticello.  

Brussels sprouts contain good amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, folic acid and dietary fibre.   They provide special nutrient support for three body systems that are closely connected with cancer development  as well as cancer prevention.  These three systems are 1) the body's detox system, 2) its antioxidant system, and 3) its inflammatory/anti-inflammatory system.   Chronic imbalances in any of these three systems can increase the risk for cancer.   Brussels sprouts intake is most associated with the prevention of these cancers: bladder cancer, colon cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer. 

Brussels sprouts can be boiled, steamed, stir fried, grilled, or roasted.   As with many other healthful vegetables boiling results in significant loss of anti-cancer compounds.  Care should be taken to not over cook Brussels sprouts.  Over cooking will turn buds gray and soft, and then develop a strong flavor and taste that some people dislike. 

Brussels sprouts are available most of the year.  California is the largest producer of Brussels sprouts  in the U.S.  and they are available October through March.  Brussels sprouts are also grown on Long Island and upper New York state.  These can mostly be found on the market in the fall.  

Select fresh green sprouts free of wilt, yellowing, or spots.  Buy them on the stalk if you can.   Cut Brussels sprouts will keep in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to ten days.   To cook rinse and remove any wilted or yellow leaves.  Score the stem ends with a knife.  Put into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook just until tender (about 7-10 minutes).   You can steam, which is actually preferred, just until tender (about  10-15 minutes).  Be careful not to overcook. 

Here are some common toppings or additions for Brussels sprouts:  balsamic vinegar, apple cider vinegar, bacon, pistachios, pine nuts, mustard, brown sugar, and pepper. 

So............ Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.


Simple but good:

Dressed Brussels Sprouts:

1 lb. fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 medium cloves garlic, chopped or pressed
1/4 cup shelled pecans
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional:  1 tablespoon dijon mustard; 1 tablespoon minced parsley

In a steamer let steam build up and then add quartered Brussels sprouts.
Let steam for 5 minutes.  Transfer sprouts to a bowl and add other ingredients and toss.  Serve warm.