Cansas and I had just hauled enough firewood to my loft to keep the fire burning through several days of deep winter freeze. I thought of the pot of spicy black bean soup I had simmering over the fire and offered her some. She laughed and said she had a pot of black bean soup on her stove, too…and so did all of her friends who’d called.
Keeping a soup pot in the winter is “standard issue”, what intrigued me is our choice of black beans over all the other possibilities. What was it about black bean soup that had turned us intuitively toward it? Or what was it about US?
The Chinese art of medicinal cooking, yao shan, may offer clues to our instinct for selecting black beans? During the winter, traditional Chinese cooks emphasize pu foods, the nutritives. Pu is also for those with poor circulation. Winter was seen as the time of year to rest and restore oneself from the effects of overwork during the other seasons. Not only did one need to stay warm, but to rejuvenate in order to prepare the body for spring. Traditional Chinese yao tun medicinal soups and stews “to chase away the cold”, contain meat and a wide selection of herbs like ginger, ginseng, Chinese Wolfberry, and basil.
Then there are the tang kuei soups for creating new blood and increasing circulation. This kind of soup may contain chicken,sesame oil, aged ginger and rice wine. So how would black bean soup fit into a pu medicinal soup framework?
The black bean’s fiber prevents a rapid rise in blood sugar after a meal, so there’s a steady energy level while balancing the blood sugar levels. Other dry beans do the same thing. Unique to the black bean is its level of molybdenum. A lot of the foods we tend to eat in excess contain sulfite preservatives which can result in headaches, rapid heartbeat, disorientation…and molybdenum happens to detoxify those sulfites. Wine drinkers take note.
The protein in the bean is comparable to meat. In terms of rejuvenation, black beans are one of the few rich sources for the antioxidant anthocyanins…also found in grapes, cranberries, and oranges. If you can’t obtain those fruits, reach for the black beans. They also contain enough folate and magnesium to support heart health. They help regulate our cholesterol level through another type of antioxidant action in the blood stream via its polyphenols. We get iron needed to help build blood. So maybe this is a tang kuei soup? For building blood and increasing circulation (& warmth)?
We’ve intuited a perfect foundation for our Ozarkian yao shan winter soup. Like any good pu, we add chilies, perhaps some ginger, garlic, onion. In fact,by adding any of the following regularly to our winter diets, our circulation will improve and warmth follows: : Cayenne Pepper; Cinnamon bark; Coriander seeds and leaves; Cumin seeds and leaves; Dandelion leaves; Garlic bulbs; Ginger root; Horseradish root; Mustard seeds; Pepper berries (peppercorns). Any of these could be added to a pot of winter black bean soup.
In Part 2 – Herbal Breads for Winter Warmth