Thursday, March 27, 2008

Bean And Not Heard

Some ingredients don't need much to make them delicious. That's my general feeling about things like beans, specifically black beans. They can act as an excellent meat substitute with little more than a spoonful of cumin and some salt and pepper, or they can be slowly stewed for hours with bacon and veggies for a complete and hearty meal. And not only are they delicious, but they're really, really good for you. Those with high cholesterol should take note of the vast advantages of eating beans, which have been proven to rapidly lower cholesterol due to their high fiber content (within 10 weeks!). Lowering cholesterol also positively affects the heart. Studies have recently shown that lowering your cholesterol by eating beans also greatly reduces your risk of heart disease. Diabetics as well can benefit greatly from eating beans, which due to their soluble fiber content helps keep insulin from floating in the bloodstream, and carries it to where it's needed.

Beans are also great for the figure conscious since their high protein content makes them a great substitute for fatty meat proteins. Pair them with a whole grain like brown rice and you have a virtually fat free meal. Even when embellished with veggies, beans (and all legumes) are still healthy and incredibly flavorful. This week I had a craving for black beans but sought a new way to eat them. Fortunately, my Good Food Fast cookbook was still sitting on my table with an excellent spicy black bean cake recipe inside. The cakes are filled out with scallions and sweet potato, then set under the broiler for a few minutes. There's no frying involved, and only a tablespoon of olive oil is used to sauté the aromatics, so this dish packs quite the healthful wallop, without sacrificing flavor. In fact, there's plenty in the way of flavor with all the cumin, jalapeño and pepper. I actually used seasoned breadcrumbs (contrary to the recipe) and found that I only barely had to salt the whole thing, and the extra spices in the breadcrumbs added a nice boost of flavor. I served the spicy cakes with lemon wedges and a dollop of cold sour cream. The crispy crust is perfect against the cool, smooth cream and tart lemon juice. Here's how to make this delicious and healthy meal for yourself:

Spicy Black Bean Cakes

2 Tbsp olive oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed
2 jalapeños, finely diced
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 can (15.5 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 large sweet potato, peeled and grated
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

1. Heat your broiler.

2. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet and sauté scallions until softened, about a minute. Add garlic, jalapeño and cumin. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds, then remove mixture to a large bowl.

3. Add beans to the bowl and mash with a fork or a potato masher. Fold in sweet potato and breadcrumbs, then taste for salt and pepper. Add egg and mix well. Divide mixture into 6 patties of equal size.

4. Brush a baking sheet with the remaining oil and place patties on top. Broil until golden brown, about 8 minutes. If your broiler is set close to the patties it may take less time, so keep an eye on them. Carefully turn the cakes and cook until crispy on the second side. Serve with lemon wedges and sour cream. Enjoy!


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