Oil-free, tasty, full of spice and umami. This easy and protein-rich recipe is a food prep staple. It’s easy to make and keeps well in the fridge. If you have problems digesting beans, don’t worry – read on for our nutritionist’s advice.
This recipe was inspired by my mother’s signature slow-cooked tofu. Firm tofu pieces are slowly stewed and left to sit overnight in a lip-smacking, umami-rich broth. As someone who has always been interested in new ways to cook familiar ingredients, I chose beans and nuts instead of tofu. Three reasons:
- I think Chinese vegetarian cuisine need to move beyond tofu and processed soy. Thus I like to use high protein whole foods to replace tofu in traditional dishes.
- Beans and nuts offer a more varied nutrition profile and should be an important part of a vegan diet if you have no allergies to them.
- Cooked beans and nuts also offer more diverse textures. Some have more crunch, some melt in your mouth. If you’re bored of tofu’s soft and chewy textures, go for these.
If you’re living in any Asian country, you’ll be familiar with rice cookers. Cook this in a rice cooker for minimum fuss and effort. It’s not advisable to make it over open fire gas stove for safety reasons. It’s easy to forget there’s something boiling on the stove and sometimes wind may extinguish the fire.
This cooking method is know as 卤 (lu) in Chinese cuisine. It’s a type of oil-free slow cooking that relies on low constant heat, total immersion of ingredients, time and quality of sauce and spices for flavour. The secret to maximum flavour in this recipe is reducing the amount of liquid to as little as possible (without burning) so taste is concentrated in the beans and nuts itself. Thus, control of the water amount is most important.
Cloves – A type of flower bud. Sweet and warm flavour. Don’t add too much as it’s very aromatic and strong.
Cao Guo – Also known as Chinese black cardamom, it is commonly used in Sichuan cuisine. Smoky, slightly peppery and earthy. Add one or two into your bottle of Chinese vinegar to impart more flavour.
Cinnamon stick – Sweet, warm and spicy flavour. In the West, ground cinnamon is commonly used in sweet recipes. In Asia, cinnamon is used in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Star anise – Smoky and strongly aromatic. The main ingredient in Chinese five spice powder.
Whole white pepper – White pepper is just black pepper with the outer skin removed. Spicier but less complex flavour than black pepper. The best white pepper is from Muntok Island, Indonesia.
Whole black pepper – Complex spicy flavour due to the outer skin. Even stronger when freshly ground.
Spices & Seasoning:
- 1 pc cao guo
- 3 pcs star anise
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 8-10 pcs whole white pepper
- 8-10 pcs whole black pepper
- 1-2 pcs chilli padi, halved lengthwise, seeds removed (omit if you prefer non-spicy)
- 1 pc of 1 cm thick ginger, sliced
- 1 5cmx5cm pc kelp (or 2 tbsp wakame), washed
- 1 pinch asafoetida (optional, omit if you don’t take alliums for religious reasons)
- 2 -3 tbsp quality soy sauce
Beans & Nuts:
- 1/4 cup raw cashews (other nuts like peanuts, walnuts, Chinese almonds can be used too)
- 2 cups dry whole beans (I used black soy beans, you can use any that don’t split too much when cooked, eg, black-eyed peas, kidney beans, red bean, soy bean, lima beans etc)
- 1.5L – 2L of water (amount of water varies depending on bean type and cooker type)
12 hours before cooking, soak the dry beans in water. Discard the soaking water 12 hours later and give the beans a rinse. Place all beans, nuts, spices and seasoning into a rice cooker. Add enough water to cover all ingredients fully. Set to cook for about 1.5-2 hours. Around the last half hour mark, open the rice cooker to check the water amount. Refill with more water if too dry to prevent burning. Cook till water is almost absorbed. Transfer into bowl/container, serve hot or cool before storing.
- Asafoetida is a traditional Indian spice that improves digestibility of beans. It can be bought from Indian grocery shops. It is not part of the allium family but is forbidden to be consumed in certain religions, as they are believed to have the same effects as alliums.
- This recipe can be cooked in a pressure cooker or magic pot. Downside is, towards the end of cooking it’s not as easy to check and adjust the water amount compared to rice cooker.
- You can use ground or powdered spices if you don’t have whole ones, but flavour profile may be less complex and rich.
Contributed by KrystleCo.
Food prep is a fantastic way to eat healthier on a plant based diet. This recipe is full of spices for a great antioxidant boost, a good amount of high quality protein and healthy fats to keep you satiated!
Most of the fats from nuts are monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) such as omega 3 and omega 6. Omega 3 and 6 are essential fatty acids that cannot be produced by the body and must be part of the diet. Both types of unsaturated fatty acids are important for regulating your cholesterol levels and promotes smooth flow of blood. Omega 3 is also particularly important for brain health and reducing inflammation in the body.
Beans are low in saturated fats, high in complex carbohydrate, high in fibre and contains high quality protein. Although meats are good sources of high quality protein, they are devoid of fibre, zero complex carbohydrates and high in saturated fats. High quality protein refers to a protein source that contains all the essential amino acids required by the body. In this recipe, black soy provides all the essential amino acids.
However nuts, legumes, beans and pulses can make us feel gassy and bloated. That is because they contain a sugar compound called oligosaccharides which can pass through our intestinal tract undigested. It is then fermented by intestinal bacteria which will produce gases. Gradually increasing your intake of beans will help to overcome gassiness as your gut build up more good intestinal bacteria. By soaking your beans and legumes as suggested, it can help you to remove some of the oligosaccharides present and improve digestibility of beans. Soaking also helps to remove phytic acids present in beans and legumes. These phytic acid binds to other important mineral sources such as zinc making it difficult for absorption. Therefore soaking not only helps to eliminate the problem of gassiness, it also improves the overall digestibility while avoiding mineral and vitamin deficiencies on a plant-based diet.
Make soaking a habit in your food prep today!