Recipe: Iron Boosting Spinach Pesto Rice with Navy Beans

I have an iron deficiency.  Have I mentioned that?

One of those pesky side effects of the gluten-damaged system that I am still healing is a lack of nutrient absorption.  Combine that with all the running I do and it adds up to a significant lack of iron in my body.

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Iron deficiency is no joke, as it results in poor oxygen delivery throughout your system and can leave you feeling weak, tired, and cranky.  And, really, who wants that?

While taking iron supplements is great for getting that very low level up initially, I don’t want to have to rely on supplements forever.  I’d prefer to get as many of my nutrients from food as possible, and as such, I offer this dish here – brimming with iron boosting ingredients.

Spinach is a favorite of mine, anyway, and I don’t need any extra excuse to eat it.  But it certainly is a bonus that is so iron rich.  One cup of spinach has just as much iron as 3 ounces of chicken.  So, for all my fellow vegetarians and vegans out there, feel free to fire that fact back at those who think iron has to come from animal products.  It’s just not so.

Continuing to up the iron ante in this dish, I’ve included navy beans (which, seriously, are just like overflowing with the stuff), the bell pepper (one standard green pepper has the same amount of iron as the aforementioned cup of spinach), and pine nuts.  To top it all off, I’ve included lemon juice.

Why is the lemon juice important, you may ask?

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Well, besides the fact that it’s delicious, consuming vitamin C (as is found in citrus) with iron increases your body’s absorption rate.

How ‘bout that?!

So if you’re looking to address an iron deficiency of your own, I highly recommend this meal.  It will have you covered, nutritionally speaking, and will certainly be more satisfying than popping a supplement.

If your iron levels are just fine and where they’re supposed to be, I still highly recommend this meal.

It’s delicious.  And nourishing.  And simple to prepare.  And, did I say delicious?

Iron or not, that’s a winning combination.

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Iron Boosting Spinach Pesto Rice with Navy Beans

Serves 6

Ingredients:  Vegetables cooking

** For the pesto (makes about 1 cup):

  • 3 cups packed baby spinach leaves
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • ¼ cup packed basil leaves
  • 1 tblspn fresh oregano
  • 1 tblspn fresh thyme
  •  ½ tspn black pepper
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tblspns vegetable broth
  • 2 tblspns lemon juice
  • ½ tspn salt
  • 2 tblspns olive oil

The rest:

  • 2 tblspns vegetable broth
  • ¼ of a large white onion, minced
  • 3 small carrots, cut into matchsticks
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into strips about ½ inch long
  • 2 cups cooked navy beans
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into half moons
  • 1 cup of spinach pesto (recipe above), divided in two
  • 3 cups cooked brown rice (about 1 ½ cups dry)

Directions:

  1. First, prepare the pesto.  Place all pesto ingredients, except olive oil, into a food processor and pulse a few times to chop ingredients.  Then, let food processor run while you slowly pour in the olive oil.  Continue to process until ingredients are well chopped and combined.  Set aside.
  2. Warm large sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add vegetable broth first, then add onion, pepper, and carrots.  Saute vegetables in the broth for 5-7 minutes, until vegetables have softened.
  3. Add beans and zucchini to the pan and continue to cook all ingredients, stirring often, for 5 minutes.
  4. Add cooked rice and ½ cup of spinach pesto.  Stir all ingredients together and mix well over heat.  Let all ingredients cook for 3-4 minutes, to warm everything through and combine.  Serve immediately with the remaining ½ cup pesto to be drizzled onto individual servings as desired.

Foodie Firsts: Orca Beans (AKA Calypso Beans and Yin Yang Beans)

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Foodie Firsts is a Move Eat Create weekly feature focusing on my adventures in the world of food.  Over the course of a few short years, I have transformed from a picky, fearful eater to a curious and open-minded foodie.  In a commitment to continue to expand my culinary experiences, I have started Foodie Firsts.  Each week I will commit to trying something new and sharing that experience with you.  My endeavors may include experimenting with cooking techniques I’ve never tried before, testing a single new ingredient, or drawing upon my creativity to combine foods in ways I never imagined.  Whatever it is, I will eat (or maybe drink) it and share it all with you.  You can decide for yourself whether you, too, would like to try.  Let’s be bold and eat good food!

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There I was strolling through the store, all set to pick up the final couple of items I needed for dinner that night, when I spotted something beautiful and unfamiliar to me.

I love it when this happens.

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The item I had spotted was in the bulk food section.  Included among the rows and rows of bins filled with nuts, seeds, and pastas, were the bins of beans.  There were your usual suspects – kidney, black, pinto, cannellini, navy – but there was also a variety I had never seen or heard of before . . . . orca beans.  These beans are gorgeous.  Boldly patterns of black and white swirl across the surface of these beautiful legumes, just as they do on their namesake.  I took home several scoops and set about learning more about orcas (because last week, I learned the importance of research!).

It turns out that orca beans hail from Mexico.  They are also commonly called calypso or yin yang beans.  Through various Internet trolling, it is noted that they are a fairly rare variety and are often paired with corn or other traditional Mexican ingredients.

I decided to cook up these beans with corn, but instead of going with tried and true Mexican flavors, I was inspired by a recipe celebrating the flavors of Native America.  Granted these two cuisines have a lot in common, so many of the ingredients here can be found in both.   You can see the recipe that I used for inspiration here at Vegetarian Times.  I followed the sage pesto portion almost to a tee (except for subbing half the oil with vegetable broth – a little trick I learned to lighten things up a bit).  Then, I combined the pesto and orca beans with cooked brown rice, zucchini, corn, garlic, onion, and peppers.

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I soaked my orca beans overnight and, in true food-nerd fashion, got excited peeking at them glistening in the water.  They really are appealing little things!   Cooking these beans was a cinch.  After their fairly long soak, they only needed about 45 minutes before they were tender, ready to be drained, and added to the rest of the dish.

Interestingly, the black on the beans lightens in the cooking process, turning to a shade of brown.  I found that these beans held their shape and form quite well, not breaking down as much as, say, a navy bean might do.  The taste was pleasant enough, but fairly unremarkable.  That’s not to say they weren’t tasty, they just didn’t necessarily stand out as exceptionally different from their bean cousins.  I read one description of orca beans that commented on their potato-like taste.  I suppose that I would say that they did have a somewhat starchy quality to them, which is reminiscent of a white potato, though I wouldn’t go as far to say that they tasted like potatoes (but, seriously, someone should get on that – a bean that tastes like potatoes would be amazing).  I could see them working in just about any recipe that called for kidney or cannellini beans quite well, adapting to whatever spices and herbs may be added to them.

cooking with beans added in - edited

Overall, these beans were quite fun to try.  They seem very versatile and I can imagine picking them up again in the future when I want a bean that will stay somewhat firm through an extended cooking process, without distracting from a specific desired flavor profile.  Plus, they are visually very interesting and can add a playful appearance to an otherwise standard dish.

I know there are loads of bean varieties out there that I’ve never tried before and this gave me an excellent starting point from which to keep experimenting.  I am certainly going to keep my eyes peeled to see what else pops up in those bulk bins!

Final Thoughts:

Serving Suggestions:  Use the recipe that I linked to above if you like.  The sage pesto was quite delicious and offered a nice change from a more traditional basil pesto.  Orca beans can also easily be substituted for black beans or kidney beans in soups, stews, or chili.  I also imagine they’d be excellent stuffed into peppers and baked with your grain of choice and chopped vegetables.

I’m curious as to how they would work in a bean burger.  My feeling about their texture and taste is that they could make a pretty fantastic vegetarian burger patty, maybe combined with oats, rice, corn, or quinoa, as well as a binder and plenty of seasoning.  I might try this in the future.

Lessons Learned:

Visual appeal is important in food.  I knew this already, of course, but the value of it really stood out when I came across these beans.  Like a child taken in by shiny objects, I was so drawn to the color and pattern of these beans that it made cooking them all that much more engaging.

Pay attention to cooking times with different beans!  I had expected these to take somewhere between 1-1 ½ hours to cook, but they were done in 45 minutes!  They were pretty small which may have had something to do with it.  Either way, I’m lucky that I checked on them when I did, because letting them go unchecked could have led to a mushy bean disaster of epic proportions!