Borlotti beans have to be the prettiest of all the legumes. With pink swirls on cream coloured pods it’s easy to see why they are also called cranberry beans.
Borlotti beans are nutty and creamy, great in cold salads and soups and popular in Italian, Portuguese and Turkish dishes. When cooking them think garlic, olive oil and fresh herbs like sage and basil.
Legumes (lentils, peas, peanuts and dried beans such as kidney, black, broad, fava, pinto, navy and garbanzo) have been traditionally viewed as “healthy” for us but recently they’ve been getting a bit of a bad wrap with the rise in popularity of the Paleo diet. The primary argument against beans is that they contain lectins and phytic acid. (There are a few other arguments against the humble bean too, but let me concentrate on the two most commonly cited).
Lectins (there are many different kinds) are found naturally in lots of animals and plants. Having some lectins in the diet is in fact good for us as they break down bacteria, fungi and viruses. Too many lectins in our bodies, however, has shown to break down membranes in the cells in our intestinal lining. Legumes, grains, potatoes, seeds and nuts are particularly high in lectins in their raw state and many beans contain quite toxic lectins, which is why the Paleo diet came to the conclusion that legumes and grains (and sometimes potatoes depending on the version of the diet) should be ruled out of our diets. Whilst the evidence is pretty clear that eating raw kidney beans and raw lentils are probably going to make us crook the good news is soaking, cooking, canning and fermenting reduces the lectin content to safe levels. That’s kind of handy since we don’t eat lentils or black eyed peas raw anyway.
Phytate (phosphorus storage in plants) is also found in legumes, grains and nuts and because we can’t break it down it inhibits the intestinal absorption of iron, magnesium, calcium and zinc. These are all really important minerals for the body. Again, luckily for us, soaking, canning, cooking and fermenting pretty much eliminates phytic acid too. Where Paleo logic confuses me a bit is nuts and seeds have higher levels of phytic acid than legumes do so it’s interesting that most versions of the Paleo diet allow nuts but not legumes. The arguments I’ve seen to keep nuts in but legumes out is that you can soak, sprout or ferment phytic acid out of nuts (but this is also true for other legumes) and, they say, that nuts are a convenient and nutrient dense food (which is true) but that leads me onto the legume’s defence.
Legumes are an easy source of protein (although to put that in context, they are high protein as far as a carbohydrate goes but not so much when compared to meat, fish or eggs); they are also high in fiber, vitamins and minerals (although generally they are not nearly as dense in fiber or micronutrients as veggies) but there is still no denying that they provide folate, iron, magnesium and potassium. They are also low in fat. And did I mention cheap?
I think cutting them out entirely just limits our diets of another good, natural food source to our meals. Variety, is once again, key. I’m not suggesting to eat a big bowl of legumes everyday – I don’t think we should narrow ourselves to any one food. Not even kale! But to me there are more reasons to include them in our diets occasionally than outcast them. I agree that cavemen didn’t eat them, but long before the Western world was getting morbidly obese and sick from their diets Indians were eating dahl, the Mexicans we eating frijoles de la olla and Italians were eating minestrone soup.
So tonight, I had a meatless night and used the fresh borlotti beans that came in my regular veggie delivery box. I’m not going to waste these beauties: