Monday, April 12, 2010

the zen of legumes...

Jean Fitzgerald's recent essay on Mindfulness and Eating really gave me pause for thought several times in the past few days. I have been focusing more intently on the process, or art, of preparing food. The concept of an Alms Bowl and only consuming a specific and finite amount of food at each meal has also struck a nerve with me and my tendency to keep eating without conscious thought to the need to stop short of expansive regret.

I thought about the art of process this morning as I prepared some Black-eyed Peas. Every Monday morning I try to prepare a new batch of legumes to have for the week ahead. I rotate between Garbanzo beans, Lentils, Black Beans, Pinto beans, etc. so I don't get bored with the same thing week after week. I'm not a fan of canned beans. Way too much sodium in them and I don't like the slimy liquid that surrounds the beans inside the can. I think that is the biggest reason I was never a fan of any type of bean. I always thought of them in the context of that slimy liquid in the can. Upon recently discovering the joys of preparing dried beans from scratch, I am now a devotee of the legume. Home cooked legumes are no comparison to canned in my humble opinion, just like home grown vegetables are no comparison to store bought.

But everything worthwhile has a price and preparing legumes at home requires a little more time, patience, and commitment than the convenience of opening up a can. Most beans require overnight soaking, so if I want to make them on Monday morning I must remember to get them ready on Sunday night. Beans need to be washed and picked through to get rid of any small foreign objects that might have gotten in with them by mistake. There is an opportunity here for quiet reflection and meditation on the importance of quality sustenance and healthy eating as we methodically pick through the beans and wash them before soaking. Waking up on a Monday morning knowing that I have planned ahead and have a pot of soaked beans ready to cook is a simple way to start off the week with a positive outlook.

The cooking process is simple. Most beans require only a gentle simmer in water for thirty minutes or so to produce wonderfully plain cooked legumes that can be used in any variety of ways. I often prefer to enhance them in simple ways. This morning I simmered my Black-eyed peas in water and a bit of Olive Oil, a small can of Tomato Sauce (Hunt's No Salt Added), a couple Bay Leaves and a generous amount of Red Chili flakes. The peas soak up all of these flavors and the result is really delicious!

The result is a simple bowl of peas to keep in the fridge all week for an accompaniment to breakfast, lunch or dinner. But it is much more than that. I value this simple bowl of food because I invested time and preparation into it. My time has value, so the food has value to me. I appreciate it a thousand times more than I ever could some peas that came out of a can. A hundred cans of Black-eyed peas will always be exactly the same. No two batches of peas I make at home are ever the same. I am not a precise cook. I rarely measure. One week I might simmer my peas in four cups of water, the next week it might be five. One week I might simmer them for 30 minutes, the next week I might forget about them and discover they have simmered for over an hour. The added spices change each week with my moods and tastes. Every batch is a unique and personal statement. The result of a simple art of preparing food.

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