Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat, the longer you will live to be able to play a musical instrument.

Let's be honest, beans get a bad rap.  We all sang the jingle relating our fiberful legumes with the subsequent flatulence which has since made me correlate my affection for beans with something to be embarrassed about.  Traveling and understanding other cultures that embrace the bean has made me finally feel ready to affirm my love for them.

First, we must understand the bean.  This pod-like food is considered a legume.  In its family it has the alfalfa, peas, lentils and peanuts.  In American gastronomy beans often play second fiddle to their protein counterpart, meat, but they are really a perfectly delicious alternative for their high-cholesterol substitute.  In fact, America would be a lot healthier if instead of eating a hamburger with a side of baked beans they ate baked beans (Amy's organic, of course) with a side of a mini-hamburger.  This, however, would be contested by North Americans and Argentines alike.

In Spain, my inversion suggestion is realized in the form of Madrid's delectable "cocido," which is a garbanzo bean-based stew, often with little bits of meat.  In the U.S., we have split-pea soup, but it is often considered scornfully and ridiculed next to the classic favorite, starch and fat soup a.k.a. chicken noodle.  

In Middle Eastern cuisine garbanzo beans are used for myriad dishes such as hummus and falafel.  As I mentioned in a previous post, on Scalabrini Ortiz in the Palermo neighborhood, on the corner of the street El Salvador, it is possible to get an excellent example of these dishes. 

Buenos Aires does harbor a secret love for beans in the form of faina, a dough-like food made out of garbanzos and often eaten with pizza, quite literally with, as in stacked on top of the slice.  Just like vegetables, some people simply need them to not look like a healthful food in order to consume them happily.

Mexico, however, I would probably give the most credit for their use of legumes.  A friend from Monterrey, Mexico made me Pedro's breakfast specialty (without any meat), and even that included beans.  In their national dishes, they proudly use a plethora of black and pinto beans, and if the Republicans win the election, this food alone might lure me over the border.

Throughout my travels, I find this discomfort for beans a disconcerting part of American food culture, and a challenge for all vegetarians here.  And although I will always be a gal from the U.S.A., today I will yet again defy my culture and affirm my bean love.