I can’t praise more highly the humble bean. Jack knew what was what when he traded the family cow for magic beans.
My birthday is in January, and Zach took me on a surprise trip to a cabin in West Virginia. Hot tub, screened porch, gas fireplace, soft bed. Need I say more? We got snowed in. Best. Birthday. Ever. On our way to the cabin, we stopped at a grocery store nearby for foodstuffs (I forgot to mention the kitchen). In addition to breakfast items and popcorn, we bought steaks and as an easy side, a can of black eyed peas. Later, when snow had locked us into our winter retreat, I cooked that can of beans to accompany the steaks and they tasted so heavenly.
Recalling that bean goodness, I picked up a bag of dry black eyed peas on a recent grocery store visit (I so rarely go to a grocery store anymore – if my pharmacy were not in a Harris Teeter market I might never darken the door!). Tonight, inspired mainly by the recent veggie broth success, I planned the black eyed peas for Meatless Monday. The recipe was simple, and concocted entirely in my head:
1 lb bag of dried organic black eyed peas
1.5 quarts of Scrap Veggie Stock
1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 fresh spring onions
1 clove garlic
salt & pepper to taste, along with whatever fabulous seasonings you have on hand and suspect might be wonderful
Simple: sautee half the onions and the garlic in the olive oil, in your soup pan, on medium high till onions begin to brown. When they’re brown, add a little stock and deglaze the pan. Then add a 1/2 quart of stock and the black eyed peas and cook, covered, on medium high heat for around an hour. Add more broth as needed throughout and if you run out, as I did, add water as needed to keep peas covered. Halfway through the cooking, put o the brown rice to serve with these (so you get your complete amino acids) and also add the other half of your onion. I love the mix of very cooked onion and less cooked onion in the final stew. I seasoned this batch with a marvelous mixed-spice curry from a little basement shop in the East Village, so how can it not be delicious?
Serve this amazing concoction over brown rice. Kale chips and roasted potatoes make a nice addition. While you eat these amazing and delicious little beans, think about this:
The legume (a class of plants that includes alfalfa, clover, beans, peas, peanuts, lentils, soy and locust trees -plus a handful of non-legume plants) is unique in that they possess the ability to fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil. Nitrogen is abundant in the air around us and less so – but vital - in the soil, and food crops gobble up the nitrogen to make friuts and grains that nourish human beings. Legumes have this marvelous capacity, thanks to the interaction of their roots with certain soil bacteria, to biologically convert nitrogen in the air to ammonia in the soil and set off a chain of breakdowns that create fertile soil. Legumes as a cover crop planted in rotation with more demanding crops build up soil and nourish other plants, all while producing beans, peanuts, lentils, etc, for us to eat!
The other things that can fix nitrogen in soil: lightening, and the Haber-Bosch process. Lightning I think you know. Haber-Bosch, you should: Fritz Haber invented a machine that could convert nitrogen in the air to ammonia. Carl Bosch scaled Haber’s machine for industrial production. Each later won a Nobel Prize for their invention, since it enabled the mass industrial fertilization of crops. It was considered by some the greatest scientific achievement of the 20th century, and the means of feeding the world. It also allowed for the creation of new weapons that prolonged two world wars.
Legumes do naturally what two men won a Nobel prize for figuring out how to do. The Haber-Bosch process “now produces 100 million tons of nitrogen fertilizer per year, mostly in the form of anhydrous ammonia, ammonium nitrate, and urea. 3–5% of world natural gas production is consumed in the Haber process (~1–2% of the world’s annual energy supply). That fertilizer is responsible for sustaining one-third of the Earth’s population, as well as various deleterious environmental consequences.” (Wikipedia)
To eat a delicious bean, and contemplate the biology, history and global impact of that little plant is really mindblowing.