Aw, dang — I’ve become one of those people. You know those crazypants health nuts who cook with weird ingredients like cold-pressed virgin coconut oil and unrefined agave nectar? The ones who refuse to buy canned beans because of the BPA in the can lining? [le sigh] Yeah, I used to think they were a little excessive, too. I never expected to be diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease. Life-changing illness had always been filed strictly under “It Won’t Happen To Me.” As it turns out, 1 in 12 Americans can now expect to be diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, and top medical researchers agree that industrial chemicals play a large role in the rising rates of these diseases. (I personally have friends with autoimmune disorders ranging from celiac disease to Type I diabetes, Hashimoto’s, and AS.) As I travel along this path of learning to manage a screwy immune system, I’m becoming one of those people who read up on things like BPA (bisphenol-A). Frankly, BPA now scares me enough to make me stop buying the canned foods that used to be a staple of my diet. Like a good scare? Check out these resources:
1. The authors of this study by the Department of Molecular Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine, the University of Tokyo, conclude that BPA may be a factor in the increase of autoimmune diseases in humans.
2. Study results and recommendations from the Environmental Working Group:
3. A powerful and eloquently written book on the relationship between environmental factors and the rise of autoimmune disease in Western nations: The Autoimmune Epidemic by Donna Jackson Nakazawa (2008)
Paying $2.99 a can for BPA-free organic canned goods isn’t going to happen on a library conservator’s salary, so in the meantime, what’s a newly-fledged health nut to do? Turn to my trusty slow-cooker, of course. I can cook up to a pound of dried beans or chickpeas at a time in the slow-cooker, and then freeze them in recipe-sized portions for later use. Not only are these dried and home-cooked legumes BPA free, they taste noticeably better than their canned counterparts. Final bonus: they are significantly cheaper! A regular (BPA-laden) 15-oz. can of chickpeas at our grocery store costs $0.99. One pound of organic, dried chickpeas costs $2.39, and makes the equivalent of four cans. Unless I have totally forgotten grammar school math, that works out to a savings of $0.40 per can-sized portion over regular canned chickpeas, and a savings of $2.40 per can-sized portion over the BPA-free organic canned chickpeas. And did I mention that slow-cooker chickpeas taste better than canned? Maybe the health nuts aren’t the ones wearing crazy pants after all…
According to Megan Porter, RD, LD and the George Mateljan Foundation, diets rich in legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas have been shown to be associated with lower levels of chronic inflammation and cancer. Cooking up a big batch of BPA-free chickpeas in the slow-cooker is unbelievably easy. Here’s what I do:
1 lb (about 2 cups) dried chickpeas
7 cups water
Optional: 1/4 tsp baking soda
Optional: 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
Why baking soda? If you have hard tap water, then add about 1/4 tsp baking soda per 7 cups water per 1 lb chickpeas. The baking soda will soften the water, cooking the beans faster and making their nutritional compounds more readily available during digestion. If your tap water is already soft, then you can skip the baking soda.
Why no salt? Some folks claim that cooking the chickpeas with salt will make their skins tougher. I think it’s a matter of personal preference. I cook my chickpeas without salt because I like to be able to fine-tune the amount of salt in whatever final dish I use them in.
Why turmeric? This potent, anti-inflammatory spice adds only the subtlest earthy flavor to the chickpeas. Ground turmeric provides a way for me to sneak some extra anti-inflammatory compounds into my food with minimal effort. It’s totally optional.
Pour the dried chickpeas into a strainer or colander and rinse well under cold water. Add the chickpeas, 7 cups water, and other ingredients (if using) to the slow-cooker. Cover and set the cooker to HIGH (or 4 hours), until tender to the bite.
Once the chickpeas are cooked, I drain them and cool them to room temperature before portioning them into freezer bags of 1 and 2/3 cup each (which makes each freezer bag equivalent to one 15-oz. can of chickpeas). This makes it easier to use the frozen chickpeas in recipes later. Makes six cups of chickpeas, or the equivalent of four 15-oz. cans.