Wholefood Cooking

On Beans and Being

Beans Picture

I’ve just arrived back home after nearly 5 weeks away on the east coast of Australia, teaching and I think a pot of simple beans are in order. This post on beans began some weeks ago, but is ending up somewhat differently to what I envisaged. It was to be a discussion on cooking beans, but now – well it’s more about being, how grounding a simple meal of beans can be and how they can remind you that simple is sometimes all we need. This is happening a lot for me lately – you will see it also reflected in the new book (due June, 2016) – elemental flavours, simple wholegrains and legumes, fundamental animal foods, simple vegetables, simple fruits – foods that are local, seasonal, ripe, and grown in great soil with great ethics. It’s the elemental that gets me, and it’s this elementality (yes it’s my made up word) that is the key. It connects you immediately to what is real and true, and what really matters in life – it takes us into our core, our heart and soul. I have been privileged in classes – especially the 4 day intensives – to see that when simple, good, organic and/or biodynamic food is around (and a lot of it) and when people are supported, something exceptional happens – they cry, they open, they connect to each other and to themselves.  It is never ever just about the food, it’s always about the energy that food carries and the context in which we eat it.  And good, real food ? Well that’s mighty powerful stuff, and it seems the simpler it is, the more powerful it is. There’s a lot of crazy food out there right now, and whilst it might suit the latest fad, or marketing campaign it doesn’t seem to suit many humans, or nourish on that deeper level.

But, sometimes we do have to know how to prepare that food, how to make it optimally digestible for our human tummies, especially that grounding bowl of simple beans. Beans are part of the legume family, and require a bit of attention. First up, a bit about how they grow – they are ridiculously easy to grow. In Australia, I often find organic beans impossible to cook properly (they are really old, and | or they are heat treated for entrance to Australia and thus never cook), so I try and grow what I can. This year I’ve added the Christmas Lima Bean and Bean Frost to my repertoire of Borlotti, they are easily available online from Diggers, or some wonderful person may share a seed with you (Belinda Jeffrey shared her Christmas Lima with me). But if you live in the U.S you will easily be able to access the glorious Rancho Gordo beans, which offer a huge range of young, heirloom beans.

I know you may have heard that you need to soak your beans, but when you look at the picture above you can see that when they are fresh of the bush, how moist they are (you can also see how lush the pod is, and how bright the colour when fresh, too). They don’t need soaking, as those sugars have not yet begun to convert to very long chain carbohydrates that are hard for us to digest. Once they begin to dry though, you will need to soak them. In lots of water to cover them by about 10cm, and for Borlotti, Frost and Christmas Lima, you will need to add an alkali – many people use a pinch of baking soda, but I prefer Kombu sea vegetable, with contributes minerals, and has a special enzyme that helps to break those long sugars down. A 2cm piece is plenty for 1/2 cup of beans, which when cooked will give you around 1 1/4 cups cooked beans. Leave the beans to soak for 12 – 24 hours in a warm place. Warmth is important as it will help encourage lacto fermentation, which will also help to make the bean more digestible, and help with getting rid of anti nutrients such as phytic acid.  Then drain and rinse, add to a pot with fresh water or stock with the soaking kombu, or use a fresh piece. Using a bone stock will help to make them even more digestible. Cook until they are done. The time they take depends on how old they are – beans under 1 year tend to cook from 45 – 1 hour | older – around 1 – 2 hours |older still – much longer, around 2 1/2 – 3 hours. If they are not cooked by then, they most likely never will.  They are ready when gentle pressure yields a creamy centre  – no pebbly bits. Pebbly bits are not digestible. I hear you saying ‘but where can I get kombu, as it’s not available in Australia?’ Kombu has been banned in Australia due to high iodine levels (crazy as we are a low iodine country, but go figure) – I buy mine online here, but you can also use Wakame which is freely available, it’s good, but it’s not quite as effective. (just a caveat about kombu, it’s great, but use it in small amounts, don’t go nuts with it).

Even though the weather is warming up, I hope you find time for this simple pot of beans in a cooler moment. But, you could always simply cook them as I have just described and use them to add to a salad with a delicious dressing. It was so wonderful to meet you all people in classes, thank you for enriching my life.  I’ll be back with some Christmas treats shortly…. x Jude







Simple pot of fresh borlotti beans


230 - 250 g fresh borlotti beans, or if dried, 3/4 cup| 150g soaked as above
2 generous tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
2 - 3 bay fresh bay leaves
1 large brown onion, diced
1 medium carrot, skin scrubbed and cut into 1/2 cm dice
2 ribs celery, cut into 1/2 cm dice
2 - 3 cloves garlic - peeled. Press with your knife to flatten
dried or fresh herbs as desired... 1 tablespoon fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, even a touch of ground (1/4 teaspoon) or seed (1/2 teaspoon) fennel.
generous black pepper
1 x 2cm piece kombu sea vegetable
3 - 3 1/2 cups water or stock

You will need around 450 – 500 g beans, weighed in their pods. This will give you about 230 – 250 g fresh beans. Can I suggest that as fennel is in season right now, it’s also a great addition – using the bulb to dice into the pot, and the fronds for greenery when serving. If you only have dried borlotti beans, remember to soak them for 12 – 24 hours, keep them warm if possible (in a sunny place, or if you are in winter, by the stove).Some extra thoughts:

  • Using a bone stock will help make them more digestible.
  • Add what herbs you like – as basil is coming into season, I will be using more of that, in winter a bit of rosemary is very welcome.
  • Don’t add salt – this will only help to toughen the beans, do that at the end.
  • If you are using dried beans, you may need extra liquid.

Some yummy ways to garnish, adding flavour:

  • preserved lemon finely chopped
  • drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
  • greenery – parsley, pesto etcetera



Add the olive oil to a 24 cm pot – as you can see I love a heavy enamel coated cast iron – over a medium flame. Add the onion, rosemary and bay leaves – it should sizzle, and cook for 5 minutes,  stirring every now and then – it should colour lightly but not at all burn, and at no point should the fat be rippling or smoking. Add the carrot, celery, garlic and herbs, reduce the heat and cook over a low flame for 10 minutes, stirring every now and then. This might take time, but it is building the flavour base. Add the beans, pepper, kombu and liquid – if using dried, ensure they are drained and rinsed. Partly cover with a lid and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer for 50 – 60 minutes or until the beans are soft, and yield their creamy centres under gentle pressure. If using dried beans, check from time to time they have enough liquid.  Remove the lid and reduce to desired consistency. Taste and add salt, pepper as desired.