In Praise of Beans…. “A Warm Cloak”

One of my favourite John Steinbeck stories is called “Tortillas and Beans.” Apparently, it was originally a chapter from Tortilla Flat (the one Steinbeck novel I’m not really crazy about–the story is great though!). Anyway, the story focuses on Teresina Cortez and her large brood of robust children who live exclusively on beans, which she gathers from the edges of local bean fields. Here’s the Wikipedia summary:

The unmarried Teresina Cortez has a menagerie of nine healthy babies and children, who all live on nothing but tortillas and beans, but nevertheless are found amazingly healthy by the school doctor. Teresina gleans the beans from the fields. As the Madonna of the tale, Teresina produces the droves of babies with seemingly no particular help. When the bean crop is ruined by rain, Danny’s housemates steal food all over Monterey for the children. It makes them sick. However, the arrival of some stolen sacks of beans at the door is deemed a miracle, the children regain their health, and Teresina is also pregnant again. She wonders which one of Danny’s friends was responsible.

In the story, Steinbeck calls beans “a warm cloak against economic cold,” but they are more than just economical…beans are one of the healthiest foods you can eat (partially because they are a resistant starch, which studies indicate “promise improved human health”: see this study). According to Joel Fuhrman (and recent studies!):

Beans are nutritionally unique: Beans and other legumes (such as lentils and split peas) are the ideal starchy food. When many people think of high-fiber, starch-containing foods, they think of whole grains, which are healthful foods, but beans are nutritionally superior. Beans and other legumes have uniquely high levels of fiber and resistant starch, carbohydrates that are not broken down by our digestive system. Though indigestible, these carbohydrates have a number of valuable health effects. First, because they are indigestible they reduce the total number of calories that can be absorbed from beans. Fiber and resistant starch also limit the glycemic (blood sugar raising) effects of beans. Finally, when resistant starch and some fibers reach the colon, they act as food for our healthy gut bacteria, which then ferment it into anti-cancer compounds in the colon.

Because they are a resistant starch, beans also prevent diabetes and weight gain…oh, and they protect against colon cancer as well!

When I’m in full-on Fuhrman mode, I meet his recommendation to consume at least one cup of beans a day by snacking on hummus, eating some kind of soup with beans or lentils in it, and/or throwing a bit of tofu in my evening meal.

A cup of cooked beans contain about the same number of calories as a cup of cooked grains (for example, brown rice), but are apparently “nutritionally superior,” and a cup of beans will fill you up more than a cup of brown rice will!

One of my absolute favourite ways to eat beans is in a thick black bean soup. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I used to loath and detest anything bean-y, but then I became vegetarian a couple of decades ago and learned not only to like beans, but to love them. The first black bean soup I fell in love with was from Earl’s menu of the early 1990s. It was delicious and thick and was served with a giant hunk of their amazing focaccia bread. Sadly, a friend’s daughter (a server at Earl’s) gleefully disabused me of the notion that the soup was vegetarian. Apparently, though I’d been reassured by many a server that the soup was completely vegetarian, it contained bacon!!

Anyway, although I make black bean soup from scratch all the time, it’s a bit time consuming, so I was inspired to make this “Slacker Black Bean Soup” this morning by an online commenter, who suggested a delicious, super quick, soup could be made with a can of refried beans, a can of black beans, and a jar of salsa. Thinking this would taste very similar to the Earl’s version, I decided to give it a try–with a few adjustments. Here we go.


1 onion, chopped

1/2 jalepeno pepper, seeded and chopped

1 can black refried beans

1 can black beans, drained

1 cup of red salsa

1 – 2 cups of water

1/4 cup green salsa

1/8 cup simulated bac’n bits (made from soy)

1 tsp. smoked paprika

chopped fresh cilantro (for topping)

2015-08-19 10.43.36


Spray a 3-litre saucepan with cooking oil and brown the onion. Throw in the rest of the ingredients and add water until it’s the consistency you like (thick is good, but you don’t want it too thick).

Serve topped with guacamole, sliced jalapeno pepper, and fresh cilantro.

Here’s the delicious result with a little tomato side salad (made by J!):

2015-08-19 11.51.07

The makes eight cups, so eight servings since one cup with a piece of cornbread will fill you up for ages.

Oh, and it’s about 120 calories a cup (without the guac or cornbread, of course!).

For a “cheater” recipe, this is REALLY good…I’d give it a 10/10. The only drawback is that the canned refried beans are more of a processed food and likely contain a ton of salt.

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