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‘Cute’ little mung beans are a quick-cooking, healthy wonder food you’ll want to start using


MUNG BEANS

Properties: High in protein and fiber, these small olive-green legumes cook in under 30 minutes. They boast a wealth of vitamins and minerals including folic acid, iron, potassium, magnesium and vitamin C.

Flavor: Mild, slightly sweet and nutty.

Uses: Cooked mung beans can be used in soups, stews and salads. Sprouted mung beans are found atop sandwiches, at salad bars and in Asian stir-fries and soups.

Starch from the beans is processed to make Asian cellophane noodles.

Where to buy: Indian groceries and in the bulk bins at natural food stores.

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“Look at those cute little beans! What are they?” asked the cashier as she was weighing my bag of mung beans.

Most of us recognize mung beans in the form of sprouts, but as slightly oval-shaped, BB-size beans, they are relative strangers.

And it’s a pity to overlook these humble pulses — pulses being the edible seeds of legume plants — because not only are they delicious and nutritious, but they also manage to dodge a couple of the complaints that are commonly lodged against dried beans.   

Like, who has time to cook them?

It turns out that mung beans do not require presoaking or long hours of cooking. Just sort through the dried beans, picking out any foreign matter, rinse them in a colander, and simmer in water or stock for about 25 minutes or until tender.

These simply cooked beans then can be buzzed into hummus or used to garnish a salad — in much the same way that you might use garbanzo beans.

To make mung bean soup, add some vegetables, a few herbs or spices and a maybe can of tomatoes to the pot. You can use your favorite lentil soup recipe, substituting mung beans for some or all of the beans — a combination of both works well because they cook in the same amount of time. Serve with crusty bread for an inexpensive meatless meal.

But wait, you said you don’t eat beans because of the intestinal havoc they cause?

It turns out that mung beans, along with others such as lentils, split peas and adzuki, are among the least “flatulating,” thanks to their comparatively low levels of complex sugars called oligosaccharides. Because these sugars can’t be broken down by our digestive enzymes, they are fermented during digestion.

It’s that fermentation that causes most of the trouble. (Limas, navy beans and whole soybeans are the worst offenders.)

That’s the word from Crescent Dragonwagon in “Bean by Bean” (Workman Publishing, 2012, $17.95), which adds that because beans, in general, are high-fiber foods, “those unaccustomed to eating such foods also tend to suffer flatulence when they first start fibering up.”           

Given their positive attributes, it’s surprising that there aren’t more recipes for mung beans online or in cookbooks. (I combed through a stack of cookbooks and found only a smattering of recipes.)

You’ll have the best luck if you look toward India, where these beans, also called moong, green gram and golden gram, have been cultivated since ancient times.

One of the most popular recipes is for moong dal, which is a spicy, soup-like dish made from skinned and split mung beans. (The split beans are sold in Indian grocery stores.)

And the vegetarian realm is another good place to look for recipes.

London-based, vegetable-centric chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s sophisticated recipe for Carrot and Mung Bean Salad was what first made me a fan.

In the introduction to this recipe, he calls these pulses “hearty and healthy but intrinsically bland,” but says that used right, they “soak up loads of flavor, pack a real punch and just taste fantastic.”

Counter Culture zeroes in on a single food or ingredient (or sometimes, technique) to help readers broaden their horizons in the kitchen. Anne Schamberg is a freelance food writer living in Waukesha. Email her at aschamberg@gmail.com.

RECIPE

This side-dish recipe, slightly tweaked, is from “Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi” by Yotam Ottolenghi (Ten Speed Press, 2014, $35).

It calls for cutting the carrots into batons, but simply slicing them into ¼-inch rounds will save some time.

It can be made ahead and refrigerated; just bring it to room temperature before serving.

Carrot and Mung Bean Salad

Recipe tested by Anne Schamberg

Makes 4 servings

  • ⅔ cup dried green mung beans
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to finish (divided)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon dried chile flakes
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and cut into 2-by-¼-inch batons
  • ⅔ cup water (about)
  • ½ teaspoon sugar (superfine if you have it)
  • 1 ⅓ cups cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 ½ ounces feta cheese, broken into ¾-inch pieces
  • Salt

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil, add mung beans and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, until beans are cooked but still retain a bite. Drain, shake well and transfer to a large bowl.

About 3 minutes before beans are cooked, in a small sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add cumin, caraway and fennel seeds. Cook, stirring often, about 3 minutes, until seeds begin to pop. Pour hot oil and seeds over hot, drained beans, along with the garlic, vinegar, red pepper flakes and ½ teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.

While beans are cooking: In a 12-by-8-inch baking pan (13-by-9-inch works too), mix carrots, water, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, the sugar and ½ teaspoon salt, and toss to combine. Roast in preheated oven 25 to 30 minutes, until all water has evaporated and carrots are nicely roasted and slightly caramelized. Remove from oven and add carrots to mung beans along with the cilantro, and stir gently. Transfer to a large platter, sprinkle lemon zest over the top, dot with feta, finish with a final drizzle of oil, and serve.

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