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Samin Nosrat Samin Nosrat
A professional cook, freelance writer, and teacher, Samin looks to tradition, culture and history for inspiration for her creations. She lives in Berkeley, California.
Aaron Hyman Aaron Hyman
Ivy League chef and yogi has the recipe for practice.

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« Finding Inspiration | Blog HomePage | Let's Get Strategic »

Heeding My Inner Nonna

shellbeans.jpgI've started tapering back into a steady asana practice after a period of rest to give my injured hamstring a break, and I've already noticed that desire--stemming straight from my ego--to push my body harder, to do more, to get into more advanced poses.  And each time that desire flares up, I pose a question: "Why?"

What good would it do, what purpose would it serve for me to fold a few inches further, or get deep enough into that backbend so I can grab my foot? The answer's pretty much always the same: it'd stroke my ego, but that's about it. And so, I relent. I do my best to soften and let go of that, reminding myself that my body can sing in even the most modest of poses.  

In Italy, the Tuscans are often pejoratively referred to as mangiafagioli, or bean-eaters, because so many of their recipes are based on the humble shell bean. Whereas the Piemontese and Emiliano-Romagnoli boast arsenals of recipes featuring choice cuts of fresh and cured meats, exquisite cheeses like Parmesan, and enrich their pasta with extra egg yolks, over the centuries the environment and economy have led the Tuscans to favor dishes made with day-old bread, offal, and yes, the shell bean.  

But instead of treating these ingredients with disdain and resenting the conspicuous lack of extravagant ingredients that circumstances have brought about, for centuries, Tuscan grandmothers and cooks have ingeniously created a catalog of delicious recipes that demonstrate the full potential of these simple ingredients to both delight and nourish.  

Instead of coming to the kitchen wishing for more, these cooks have made a habit of taking what's available to them and pouring everything they've got into that. In the kitchen, these traditions are what I look to for guidance with my own cooking. It's pretty sweet to realize that I can call on the same nonnas as my guides on the mat as well.  

Who knew?  My inner nonna is a yogi.

Shell beans all'uccelletto
Serves 4-6 people as a side dish

I often refer to this dish as the Tuscan version of refried beans. It's delicious, simple to prepare, and quite filling; it's so elegant that people often have no idea how humble its origins really are.   

2 cups dried white beans, such as cannellini or toscanelli, or (when in season) 4 cups freshly shelled beans
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chopped tomatoes, canned or fresh
2 large cloves garlic, sliced
10-12 sage leaves
extra virgin olive oil

If using dried beans, soak them in 6 cups of water overnight and drain the water the next day.   Place the beans in a medium saucepot.  Add the baking soda, a pinch of salt and cover generously with water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce flame and simmer until beans are tender, about 30 minutes for fresh beans and one hour for dried beans.  

When the beans are cooked strain them (but don't discard the cooking liquid).  Heat a large frying pan and lightly coat the bottom with olive oil. Add the tomatoes and garlic and sizzle for a few moments.  Add the beans and about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid. Stir the beans continuously with a wooden spoon until they begin to break down. Cook, stirring continuously, over medium low heat until the beans are creamy and soft. Add more olive oil and salt as needed.  Tear the sage leaves into the beans toward the end of the cooking. Serve warm, garnished with olive oil.  


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I loved this so much. I've just started taking yoga classes again after a rest of a few years, and the poses that once came easy to me are not coming easily anymore. My inner critic has been harsh, and this totally defeats the point of why I restarted this practise!

Your post served as a gentle reminder that my inner critic was being fueled by my ego, and my ego will certainly not be helpful in maintaining on-going regular practise (which is based on wanting to find deeper meaning and balance, NOT competitiveness with anyone else, or even myself.) Simplicity is better in the long-term. Thank you for that!

How wonderful that the Italians have a word for bean eaters! And better yet, it sounds so sophisticated. Thank you for sharing this bit of Tuscan history and delicious recipe.

This is a brilliant article and it speaks so elegantly to what I've been challenged with my whole yoga life of 14 years. I am just now getting into poses that I've longed to but couldn't do and the question now is, and so what? Pure joy for me to move into poses without the old fears and work the body carefully without the stress of the mind and it's competitiveness.
My Nonna raised me and my husband just happens to be making that recipe right now, one of our favorites. Loved how you brought that analogy into the story, perfect. Thank you!

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