Back in the day there were a lot of really nasty "natural foods" cookbooks and recipes that gave healthy cooking a bad rap. Tasteless cardboard concoctions of tofu and alfalfa sprouts, bean loaves of strange texture and stranger taste, and similar dubiously edible casseroles made most folks eschew, rather than chew, vegetarian fare.
I was reminded of this when I was leafing through an old cartoon book by Matt Groening, published before he hit it big with the Simpsons. One "Work in Hell" cartoon features a flyer from twins Akbar and Jeff's newly reopened Tofu Hut, and what a menu awaits: "Natures Sandwich", a sauteed tofu wedge 'n' strips of munchy cabbage in a leathery whole-wheat pita pocket. Or how about a nice Beet Frothy or Kelp Sickle? Then there's always the salad bar where diners can load up their plates with chunkstyle carrot pieces, slippery sprouts, soy cubes, and flavorless midget tomatoes.
You see what I mean.
I myself am still a little wary of millet (it's crunchy bird seed!) and tempeh, though the old man really likes it, especially barbecued and tucked in a homemade bun. But the mighty soybean, that powerhouse of legumes, has been one of my favorite throwback 70s veggies to grow, store and cook with for a while now.
To begin with, soybeans are incredibly easy to grow and are very prolific. We are still eating through our garden harvest of dried soybeans from two summers ago. We like the Envy variety (available through Johnny's Selected Seeds) which grows vigorously and have no discernible insect pests. We pick the green soybeans as they mature to steam and salt for edamame snacks or Roasted Soybeans, and then leave the rest to ripen and dry.
Once the soybean pods are brown and brittle, it is easy to pull up the plants and then shell the beans on a lazy summer afternoon. We store our dried soybeans in a big joint compound bucket lined with a plastic kitchen bag and just scoop some out when we need them for a bean dish. Soybeans are great added to chili or stir fries, once they are soaked overnight in water to cover and then drained and cooked for 45 minutes to an hour until they are tender and creamy.
On the left you can see some dried soybeans and on the right are some soybeans that were soaked overnight.
I wanted to try something new with my dried soybean stash, so I perused a bunch of cookbooks and found an elegant recipe for a Gratin of Dried Lima Beans in my copy of Sylvia Thompson's wonderful "The Kitchen Garden Cookbook" (NY: Bantam, 1995). This cookbook always has unusual recipes for preparing garden vegetables and herbs, so with a bunch of deviations from the original, here's my adaptation of this flavorful recipe. A Seventies Style Soybean Casserole, this ain't.
Mediterranean Style Soybean Gratin
1 cup dried soybeans (makes 2 cups cooked beans)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped (everything gets a medium chop)
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1/2 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced tomatoes
8-10 mushrooms, sliced
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried rosemary, crumbled
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (I used 2 slices Rudi's Gluten Free Wheat Bread)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
Soak soybeans overnight in water to cover. Drain and place in a medium saucepan with fresh water to cover. Bring to a boil. Turn heat to simmer and cook, covered, until beans are tender, 45 minutes to an hour. Drain beans, but reserve bean liquid.
Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in frying pan. Add onions and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add in carrots, celery, garlic, and green pepper. Cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring. Add 1 cup reserved bean broth and simmer over low heat, until carrots are crisp-tender, about 5-7 minutes more.
Add tomatoes (and their juice)and simmer another 5 minutes. Then, using a slotted spoon, remove all the simmered vegetables to the bowl with the cooked soybeans and mix well. Pour pan juices into a large measuring cup and add in enough bean broth to measure 2 cups. Reserve.
Wipe frying pan with a cloth or paper towel to dry. Add sliced mushrooms to pan and saute over medium heat until browned, about 3-4 minutes, stirring frequently. Mix mushrooms in with beans and sauteed vegetables. Add thyme, rosemary and salt and pepper to taste.
Turn mixture into a 1-1/2 quart casserole dish.
Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
Heat butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil in frying pan. Whisk in rice flour to make a roux. Slowly add in reserved pan juice/bean stock mixture, whisking constantly to keep lumps from forming. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, stirring, until sauce thickens, about 4-5 minutes. Pour sauce over vegetables in casserole dish.
Blend bread crumbs and Parmesan. Sprinkle over bean casserole. Drizzle a little extra olive oil over the top and then pop in the oven and bake for 45 minutes, or until bubbly and crumb topping is lightly browned and CRISPY.
Garnish with chopped parsley.
This is a great vegetarian main dish and the leftovers are wonderful heated up over cooked rice. We all really enjoyed this intensely flavorful dish.
I am sending this elegant soybean gratin over to My Legume Love Affair #32, which is hosted this month by Sandhya's Kitchen. This monthly event celebrates the diversity of legumes and was founded by Susan, The Well-Seasoned Cook. Check back with Sandhya after the Feb. 28 deadline and you'll be amazed at the number of blog entries for this deservedly popular foodie blog event.