White beans with figs, leek and rosemary

by admin on March 26, 2010 · 13 comments

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In the snowy weeks at the start of the year there were a couple of days when I couldn’t get to work and I had the opportunity to really immerse myself in some reading. Springing off from Elaine’s excellent collection of links on How to build & maintain healthy bones on a plant-based diet I spent a happy couple of days reading up on bone health and found inspiration very close to home.

In Oxford (where I live and work) there is an ongoing research study called EPIC, the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. EPIC is an impressive undertaking; it has been running since 1993 and has followed the diets of 65,000 Oxford residents since then, watching and waiting to see which patterns emerge between the food we eat and our health.  Because Oxford has such a lot of vegetarian folk, the study has provided excellent opportunities to look at the pros and cons of being vegetarian and vegan.

Are vegan diets (by definition dairy-free) good or bad for your bones is one such conundrum the researchers hope to answer.  So far in the EPIC group, the meat eaters, fish eaters and vegetarians all seem to have about the same overall risk of having a fractured bone.  The vegans in the group however had about a third more fractures than those other groups.  It’s a deceptive result this one though, and the true picture only emerged after the statisticians had a closer look at the numbers.  Those vegans who had enough calcium in their diet were no more likely to have a fracture than those following other styles of diet. It seems it’s not a vegan diet that is bad for your bones at all, just a badly balanced vegan diet without enough calcium in it.


As I see a lot of vegans in our bone health clinic, I’m always looking out for good vegan calcium sources, and it’s even better if several of these can be combined into a tasty calcium-rich meal. A chance mention on this guide to vegan calcium sources of the very Italian pairing of figs and white beans led to this calcium-rich spread recipe. There’s about 140 mg of calcium in a half serving of this recipe, plus a good amount of iron and fibre.  A batch of this in the fridge can be used as part of a main meal, spread on toast bruschetta-style or used as a dip with oatcakes or Lucy’s olive oil crackers.

Recipe for White beans with figs, leek and rosemary

Serves 2 to 3 as a side dish. Quantities are easily doubled

2 tsp olive oil
Sprig rosemary, finely chopped
Half a leek, finely sliced (about a cup)
4 semi-dried figs, chopped
1 400g can canellini beans, drained & rinsed
Half a tsp pink peppercorns (optional)

Put the olive oil into a pan and turn the heat to low. Add the chopped rosemary and warm in the oil for five minutes.

Add the leek to the pan, turn up the heat a little and cook for a further five minutes, until the leek is softened but not browned.

Next add the beans and figs to the pan and cook for a further five minutes. 

While the beans are warming, crush the peppercorns roughly using a pestle and mortar.

Empty the contents of the pan into a blender or food processor and blitz until coarsely pureed (or smoother if you prefer).  Stir through the peppercorns and serve.

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