Thursday, July 21, 2011

Feijão Guandu: or Pigeon Peas, aka the Biological Plow!

Wow wow wow! I bought these magic beans the other day from the sweet Japanese-Brazilian ladies at the Saturday organic farmers' market in my neighborhood (Glória) and was not disappointed. After my brief flirtation with monochromatic meals, I've returned to my usual programming of technicolor eating and these carnivalesque beauties caught my eye immediately.

They are called feijão guandu, or guandu beans, sometimes feijão andu, and seem to be some variant on what is known as the pigeon pea. These came fresh, a tiny bit sprouted, from a farm west of Rio, R$5 for a baggie. Dried, they fade to a light brown and pale green, but these ranged from wine-dark to red, vibrant brown, lime green, and mustard, like a handful of hearty jellybeans.

 Why are they magic? Well, this here legume is an old toughie with a heart of gold: drought-resistant, heat-resistant, and produces protein-rich beans even in poor soil conditions, breaks hard ground in search of water, thus opening the soil up for the more fragile roots of other plants, and is one of those special earth-workers known as "nitrogen fixers." This means it makes atmospheric nitrogen biologically available to other plants, causing it to be used as "green manure" (how I love this term!), or a cover crop, to regenerate nutrient-depleted soil.

This informative blog (in Portuguese) tells us feijão guandu is known as the "biological plow" (arado biológico). More scientific information is here (also in Portuguese, sorry). But, ah!, here is a thorough blog post on the guandu bean that I just found in English, with assorted recipes. Apparently, the English name, pigeon pea, comes from the legume's use as poultry feed in the U.S. during the 19th century.

It turns out you can eat them raw, but I cooked these guandus in the normal way I cook beans here, except I added some special wild tomatoes and beautifully twisted, tiny organic carrots (a rarity in Rio, where carrots are normally grotesquely gigantic, over-fertilized, stick-straight and rock-hard monstrosities). They struck me as somewhere between brown beans and lentils and have that deep, dense flavor of nutrient-rich foods (dark leafy greens also strike me as having this hard-to-describe taste, though beans and greens are flavor worlds apart), though with a certain lightness that I think had to do with their freshness. Below is more or less what I did.

BEANS, Weird Vegetables Brazilian Style*

*elaborations on the instructions printed on a bag of dried brown beans (feijão carioquinha) someone left in my kitchen in Rio

1 baggie or 1.5 cups of fresh beans (if dried, then soak overnight)
4 cloves of garlic, 2 peeled & crushed, 2 tiny dice
1 onion, diced
1 tomato, diced (or 2 large handfuls of wild or cherry tomatoes)
1-2 small carrots, diced (optional)
1 small bunch of cilantro

Rinse beans and dump into a pressure cooker pot. If no pressure cooker lives in your kitchen, then use a regular pot, but double the time. Fill with water to about 1.5 inches over the beans. Add the 2 cloves of crushed garlic. Pressure cook that baby for 30 minutes. Some people say that guandu beans can be bitter and they toss out the water after the first boil and refill it, but these fresh beans had no bitterness to them. While the beans are cooking, rinse and chop all that other stuff.

When the beans are soft enough to eat (or pressure cooked and you've let out all the steam by slipping a fork under the whistle-top blow hole thing and lifting), drain them but keep the liquid for later. Mash about a quarter to a third of the beans with a fork. This is what the supermarket bean bag told me to do, and I was really into this tactic of mixing of textures: mashy bean pulp with whole beans. I just mash them against the side of the sieve but you can do it in a bowl with a wooden spoon if that feels more civilized to you.

Heat up two teaspoons of olive oil in a large pan and sautee the rest of the garlic and the onions until the onions are almost transparent. Add the tomatoes and let their juices get nice and mixed up with the rest. And the carrots if you are adding carrots. Then add the beans. Little by little, add as much of the bean liquid as you need to make the whole concoction reach your ideal consistency. Add salt to taste (2-3 teaspoons perhaps) and mix well. Then add the spiciness vehicle of your choice. I've been using my homemade chili pepper oil, which has divine effects, but add a few whole or minced chili peppers would also be tasty.

Finally, sprinkle with cilantro. Sadly, the guandu beans are not so vibrantly varied after being cooked, but are very tasty all the same.  Uma delícia!

1 comment:

Ann said...

Do you know where can I buy dried black pigeon peas in the U.S.?

amur127 at gamail dot com