Shelling large green beans may put many off, selecting canned varieties instead. But there is a way to do it quickly and efficiently.
We are very fortunate here in the Midlands of South Africa that we can enjoy green legumes year round; favas and peas in the winter, and green beans, limas and scarlet runners in the summer. And a host of others of course, but those are the ones that keep us in vegetable protein.
We are not vegetarians, but are trying to lessen our reliance on red meat as the whole planet will have to do in the next few decades if we want to survive the ravages of greenhouse gases. And we like our green beans in any case. Cooked imaginatively with herbs and spices they are absolutely delicious.
Dried beans I'm less enthusiastic about.
There are several good reasons to enjoy green legumes. For starters they are just a lot nicer than dried beans and peas; easier and quicker to cook too, even if you have a pressure-cooker.
The second is that green beans and peas have far less of substances being called “anti-nutrients.” These are produced by plants to protect themselves from pests, one of which is a mammal known as the human being! In particular, trypsin inhibitors reduce the digestion and absorption of protein by countering some of our pancreatic enzymes. Others like phytates reduce the absorption of minerals from our food.
Soybeans have about ten times as much as the other more common legumes which is why many people don’t like them in burgers; they are very indigestible and leave one with discomfort in the belly.
Peas have by far the least (2% of soybeans) which is why we can enjoy them raw without abdominal pain. All other legumes should be cooked.
These anti-nutrients are greatly reduced by soaking, rinsing and cooking, and using salt when boiling or roasting. Such that a person on a well rounded diet need have no concern about them.
The downside of the larger green beans and peas is that shelling takes a lot of time, and is particularly hard on the thumbnails. And so many people, to their detriment in my opinion, shun them in favour of dried legumes; or from a can.
We have tried various different ways of shelling beans and eventually I have come to the conclusion that the best way is to cut away a thin slice along the side where the seed attaches, with a sharp knife. Then the seeds pop out much more easily. It is one of the reasons why the common green bean is favoured; it doesn’t need podding.
Neither do young broad beans which can be cooked and eaten with their shells; in fact there is even more of a very important phytochemical called L-dopa in the pod.
Like all vegetables, freshly picked green beans and peas are far sweeter than those that are days old. Late summer is the time to plant your peas and broad beans in mild climates but spring is when we planted them in Chicago. They take at least two months before you can reap the fruit, and often longer, but then they go on bearing for a long time.
It’s amazing how much money you can save by growing your own vegetables; and how much nicer they are when freshly picked and cooked. They are more nutritious too I suspect.
Picking your large green beans, and other vegetables, from the garden is time consuming, especially the limas that hide in the foliage. Instead of getting frustrated we have turned our minds around to think of it as forest bathing; a time of peace and quiet where you might meet with God and even see some fairies.
They are a wonderful source of protein; one cup of cooked lima beans, for example, will supply you with nearly a third of the amino acids needed every day. They are often served in traditional American culture with corn in a dish called succotash.
I now look at every recipe with the time taken to prepare it in mind. Does succotash have any advantage over corn on the cob and a plate of lima beans? I don't think so.
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Legumes have come in for a lot of stick because of their starch content. Those on a very low carb diet are encouraged to eschew peas and beans, wrongly so, in my opinion; except perhaps for a season if you are very obese and must reduce your daily carbohydrate below 30g per day for a few months while you get all those pounds off.
Then it makes a lot of sense, but for a season only.
A cup of lima beans has 40g of carbohydrate, but a third of that is fiber that does not produce glucose but passes through to the colon where it is digested by the normal flora producing excellent short chain fatty acids instead.
There is oodles of research showing that diabetics on high fibre meal plans have far better glucose and insulin profiles, lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
Shelling large green beans is time consuming but there are ways of doing it neatly with a sharp knife.
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