Savory Bean Squares

Aduki bean squares would be nice served as a side with udon noodles and veggies, or a fresh salad.

Aduki bean squares would be nice served as a side with udon noodles and veggies, or a fresh salad.

Now that I’ve bestowed upon you the facts of a bean-eating life in my post, The Birds and the Beans, it’s time for me to figure out what to do with all those soaked beans! I decided to share an oldie but goodie—this is something that my friends and I used to make occasionally with aduki beans.

I suppose three decades ago we convinced ourselves that this dish could be a vegan substitute for a popular dessert. I’m not going to say what that dessert is because I think it’s obvious from the photo and the ingredients. Besides, I am not presenting it here as any such substitute and not even as a dessert.

I would suggest this for a very nutrient-dense snack or it could be added to a meal as a little side-dish treat. I haven’t thought of any really clever name for this recipe so for now I’ll simply call it:

Savory Bean Squares

  • 1 1/2 cups dried aduki beans
  • 5-6 inch piece of kombu
  • 3-4 tablespoons miso paste (Today I used 1/2 red miso and 1/2 sweet white miso.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup dried currants
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnut pieces
  • 1/2 cup barley malt

1. Soak the beans in the kombu and cook them as described in The Birds and the Beans post.

2. Roast the walnut pieces by laying them out on a baking sheet–single layer–and baking them at 350 until they start to smell aromatic. Take them out at that point.

3. When the beans are about cooked and you have added the salt to them, throw in the currants. [Yes I know I am breaking my own “rule” here because I had advised no fruit with beans. I find adding currants here works okay but you could skip them if you want to.]

4. Combine the miso paste/barley malt with the beans and mix thoroughly.

5. Simmer the bean and miso/barley malt mixture. Barley malt will thicken up like a soft candy so just get the mixture simmering and that’ll be enough.

6. Add the walnuts and put the mixture into a 9 X 9 inch pan and let it cool. Refrigerate it to make it even more firm.

This will firm up really well and you can cut it in little squares. You will find it has a savory, slightly salty, slightly sweet taste. A small serving will be all you’ll need at one time. This is a great snack for anyone doing physical labor or athletic activity.

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Sweeten It Up Without Sugar

It is possible to make and eat desserts and other sweet treats without using sugar.  When I say “sugar,” I include honey, agave syrup, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, glucose . . . ALL the “ose’s,” molasses, brown sugar, raw sugar, turbinado sugar.  That’s right! Even if you see them in your health food store, that does not mean they aren’t sugar or at least they act like sugar in your body and wreak all kinds of havoc with your hormones, your blood sugar, your arteries, your digestion.  (You can read about this in my article “What Is Sugar?” on the Street Articles website.)

Some brands will do anything to make you think they are healthier for you including putting their product in a brown package or labeling it with an enticing buzz word.  Would you believe that when I went to my health food store today I saw a package of refined white sugar labeled “Vegan!”  Who do they think they’re kidding?  Vegan is getting to be very popular, so why not say that sugar is “vegan.”  It is true.  Sugar did come from a plant.  It was a plant a long, long time ago before it was mashed and stripped and chemically-treated and altered and granulated and bleached and who knows what else.

What you choose to use instead of sugar can be a difficult decision because it depends on how far you are willing to go to protect your health and how far you personally should go to improve any conditions you currently have that are sugar-related or sugar-aggravated.

My mantra is always the same:  pick the closest thing to whole food as possible.  I don’t actually know of any sweetener that is a complete whole food.  All of them, even the best choices, are processed and refined to some degree.  Probably some of you might say 100% raw honey right out of the honeycomb is an unrefined, whole sweetener.  And I’d have to agree with you on that.  The problem I have with honey is that it still consists of glucose and fructose just like table sugar.  However it has some other benefits and because it is so very sweet, you can use a lot less of it than you would sugar.  So maybe it is a good gradient choice if your system can tolerate honey.

I prefer not to use honey and instead I use whole grain sweeteners that have been naturally fermented.  I use organic barley malt and I use organic brown rice syrup.  I use these because they are not simple sugars and therefore do not rapidly spike your blood sugar level but instead they burn more slowly.

A good analogy would be to think of building a fire.  If you build a fire and used newspaper as fuel, it will burn up in a flash and then be gone.  That is like eating sugar.  It is a fast and furious fuel at first and then it’s gone, leaving the rest of your body in a state of chaos to keep up with the rapid change the sugar made.  If you build a fire with good, aged hard wood, you can keep that going for hours as it burns at a slow, steady rate providing light and heat.  That is like fueling your body with whole grains and whole grain sweeteners.  They are what is called, complex carbohydrates and do not produce the rocky ups and downs that sugar does.

Grains are naturally sweet.  Here’s a test you can try:  Make yourself some brown rice and take a mouthful, chewing it and chewing it but don’t swallow.  You will taste how your saliva breaks down the whole grain and produces a beautiful sweet taste.  (Okay, eventually you can swallow!)

Here are a few ways to use whole grain sweeteners in cooking:

FRUIT CRISP
This is made by putting barley malt into a heavy pan (cast iron works well) and heating it until it is bubbling like you would make a soft candy. By adding toasted oatmeal flakes and chopped nuts to it, and maybe a little whole wheat flour, you can get a nice mixture to put over sliced apples or other fruit. Bake it in a 350 degree oven for a few minutes and you’ve got yourself a nice apple crisp that won’t ruin your health.
BROWN RICE CRISPIES
  • 6 cups of brown rice crispy cereal (read the label and make sure there is no sugar or honey added)
  • handful of raisins
  • handful of peanuts
  • 1/2 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of brown rice syrup

Mix the brown rice crispy cereal, raisins, peanuts and cinnamon in a bowl.  Pour the brown rice syrup into a heavy saucepan or skillet and bring it to a boil.  Simmer until the rice syrup is very bubbly and thick.  Add the rice crispy cereal mix and quickly stir it all up so the cereal mixture is coated.  Press the mixture into a 9X9 pan that is lightly oiled.  Let it cool, cut it into squares and serve!

When I make an apple pie, I drizzle a bit of brown rice syrup over my cut apples to sweeten them before baking the pie.  I also use whole grain sweeteners for puddings, and to create a sweet and savory sauce for an entree.

These are just some very simple, quick-to-make examples.  The possibilities are endless and the best way to learn how to do it is by getting yourself a couple of great cookbooks.  There are all kinds of fancy desserts without sugar.  Let me know which ones you like best!