This is the October 2005 issue of the Low Budget Vegetarian newsletter.

This issue includes:
- About my cookbook - download version now available
- Some notes on cooking beans
- using kelp/kombu with beans
- Food topic - Soybeans
- Coming up in the next issue


We are coming up on my favorite time of the year for cooking - Autumn, and early Winter. This is the time of year there is the biggest variety of seasonal produce, and I often build a meal around a vegetable dish, like squash. This is also apple harvest season here in Minnesota, so we often do a hot cereal with cooked fruit topping for a warming, change of pace dinner - it is a very soothing and grounding way to end a day's work.


- About my cookbook - download version is now available!

The cookbook I wrote, *How to Survive as a Low Budget Vegetarian*, is now available for purchase as an electronic download in the popular adobe acrobat PDF format. The price will be $6.00 US.

As I said last month - if you do buy the book, PLEASE take time to look over the first part of the book. I say that because, with cookbooks, most people tend to skip straight to the recipes.  With my book, it's the beginning section that will give you the tools to expand your cooking knowledge, vary the recipes, and learn to cook without always using a recipe. In that first section I give a LOT of information on cooking, shopping, meal planning, using spices, all sorts of stuff I think you will find very useful.


Some notes on Cooking Beans

I've been cooking beans from scratch for over 30 years now, since I got my first bean cookbook in college - *Living High on the Bean* by Beverly White. I use beans a lot, and I keep 15 or 20 kinds of beans and peas on hand from around the world.

I tied together my experience with cooking beans, using methods and spices from different world cultures, in an essay I wrote on Making Beans Easy to Digest. This is in my cookbook, and is also available online ( I wrote that about four years ago.

Lately I've been simplifying my bean cooking, and I have made one big change.

I am now convinced that most problems from digesting beans come from improper cooking. Specifically, under-cooking caused by adding salty ingredients too early in the cooking process.

The only times I have had serious problems digesting beans or peas, is when they are cooked with a chunk of salty meat, usually bacon or ham hock.

However - I am trained im macrobiotic cooking, and that method always adds a stick of kombu or kelp (kombu is a Japanese variety of kelp) to the cooking water, for taste, and to aid digestion.

Well, I like seaweed and it is very nutritious and mineral-rich, so I use a fairly big piece. And, I kept noticing that my beans and split peas were taking too long to cook, compared to cooking times in books I have.

Then it occurred to me - seaweed is salty. So, when I left out the kelp until the beans were tender, cooking times dropped dramatically. And, what is more interesting is that the bean dishes were even easier to digest. It's not that I felt I had trouble digesting beans before; my digestion just felt a bit calmer.

The only problem with this change in cooking method is that kelp pretty much shreds and falls apart with long cooking time. (It's the same if you use a ham hock - the meat gets very tender and falls off the bone with long cooking time, and doesn't get tender enough with a short time.) To deal with that, I now cut the seaweed up into small pieces, either with scissors while dry, or with a knife after it has soaked for 10 minutes or so.

So, summing up - in order to have easy to digest beans, the following few guidelines are important.
- With most beans, soak overnight (or at least an hour, after boiling for 5 minutes), discard soaking water and rinse.
- Cook until thoroughly soft and tender - this is the single most important point.
- Hold off adding any salty or sour ingredients until the beans are thoroughly done.

The digestive spices I mentioned in my essay - ginger, turmeric etc - are helpful and nice, but not strictly necessary.


Using kelp/kombu with beans

Kelp, or kombu from Japan, is a seaweed that comes in either sheets or rolled sticks. It is greenish black in color, and stiff when it is dry. When added to water to cook, it relaxes and gets soft, and also becomes kind of slippery and mucilaginous (slimy). When cooked with beans, it thickens the water a bit to make a nice sauce, and also adds a nice flavor. Kelp is also used to make a soup stock called dashi, which is the base for japanese style miso soup - I have a recipe online at

Kelp or kombu is quite nutritious and mineral rich, is an excellent source of iodine, and also has calcium, iron and phosphorus with traces of other sea minerals.

If you cook kelp a long time it pretty much falls apart on stirring - I used to do that with beans. If you add kelp later in the cooking process, it gets soft but doesn't dissolve, and it definitely gets slippery and slimy. In a thick sauce I don't notice it so I just chop it up once it's gotten soft, and put it back in. If you don't like the slippery texture, you can cook with the kelp and then remove it before serving - that way you get a lot of the nutritional benefit of the kelp dissolved into the cooking water. You can either discard the used kelp, or keep it to throw in with a pureed bean dip like hummus for a bit extra nutrition.

Eden brand kombu is widely available in coops and whole foods stores. I buy kelp in bulk from Maine Coast Sea Vegetables (, a wonderful company that stocks a variety of sea vegetables sustainably harvested from the Northeast American coastal waters. If you use seaweed at all regularly it is much more economical to buy in bulk from them.


Cooking with Soybeans

You hear a lot today about the Miracle of Soy, usually in connection with processed soy derivatives. In fact the soy-based Vegie Burger is the poster child of modern vegetarian fare. Soy protein meat substitutes are also very popular, as are the traditional soy foods - soy milk, tofu and tempeh, soy sauce and miso.

However, very little attention is given to cooking with the plain soybean itself. I've been experimenting with it this past month, and I want to talk about what I've learned.

First of all, soy is one of the longer cooking beans. It definitely needs soaking before cooking. Boiled, it takes 3 hours or longer, as long or longer than chickpeas. Interestingly, pressure-cooking soybeans after soaking takes a bit more than an hour, which is less time than chickpeas. I haven't yet tried soybeans overnight in a crockpot - I'll report back in a later newsletter when I do.

So, I recommend pressure cooking as the way to go with soybeans. You need to be careful, because soybeans have loose skins that can clog the steam vent in the pressure cooker, causing the cooker's emergency release valve to let go. (I recall, many years ago, a Soybean Vesuvius in my mother's kitchen... It was a small pressure cooker, and it was filled too high.) This is fairly easy to prevent. Add some oil to the cooking water, and fill the pressure cooker less than half way to the top. And, most importantly, while the beans are cooking stay within hearing range;  if the hissing noise of pressure cooking abruptly stops, turn the heat off and deal with clearing the vent. (In all these years I've only had to clear a vent once, so please don't be scared away by these cautionary notes - don't overfill the pot and you shouldn't have anything to be concerned about.)

Once they are cooked, soybeans are rich, soft, creamy and quite bland. They are not very tasty plain. So, these beans rely heavily on the surrounding tastes. They seem to get along especially well with sour, salty and hot tastes, including tomato. Combining a vivid sour taste with the rich creaminess of the soybean is very satisfying.

Here are the recipes I came up with this month - all of them are posted in printable form on the site.

Soybean hummus - not as nutty as hummus made with chickpeas, but very rich and creamy. I like it fairly plain; my wife prefers it with added ingredients like olives or hot peppers.

Soybean sandwich spread - with mayonnaise, lemon, scallions and olives. Not all that good as a dip, but very good with whole wheat toast.

Soybean stew - this is with a tomato base and hearty italian spices, with some burgundy added for a smooth richness to the sauce. Very good.

Some time soon I plan to try soybeans with hot and sour cooked turnip greens or mustard greens. I'll let you know how that goes.


- Coming up in the next issue

In the October newsletter I want to talk about Dulse, which is my favorite seaweed, and one that most people seem to like right away.

And, I want to talk about, How to find time to cook beans when you don't have the time to cook beans.


And that is all for this month.

Happy and healthy eating to you.

Charlie Obert


- A Request

One of my goals this coming year, is to find good, high-quality sites on whole foods vegetarian and vegan cooking, to trade links with. I am going to be nosing around a lot on my own. It will also be very helpful to me to get suggestions from you.

Any ideas on good vegetarian cooking websites to link to? Any mailing lists, journals or blogs you like to hang out at that you think might be interested?  Any sites you think I should know about, or you think should know about me? Please, let me know.
Thanks in advance.


Low Budget Vegetarian Survival