White beans with figs, leek and rosemary

by admin on March 26, 2010 · 13 comments

Post image for White beans with figs, leek and rosemary

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.

Leave a Comment

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Maya March 26, 2010 at 18:52

Wow, what a combination! I wonder how does it taste like… very sweet? I adore white beans (well, all sorts of beans actually) and so I’m always on the search for new recipes. Love the addition of pink peppercorns!

Reply

kathryn March 26, 2010 at 20:36

Lovely, *lovely* recipe Sophie, I’m so glad you’re back blogging a bit more regularly. You’re last two posts have been great vegan calcium-rich recipes. Interesting, tasty, unusual and yet still quite simple and do-able. I have a few vegan and dairy-free-for-other-reasons clients, so I’ve been directing them to your posts.

Reply

Sophie March 26, 2010 at 20:39

Hi Maya, it does taste a little sweet, but more of a caramelised onion kind of sweet, if that makes sense. The figs add a wonderful contrast in texture as well as flavour with their crunchy seeds.
Thank you so much for your comment Kathryn – I’m secretly rather pleased that I’ve managed to post two recipes in as many weeks! Taking your lead and grouping a few posts together on a theme has made it a little easier. I’m glad the recipes have come in useful for your clients. Managing enough calcium without dairy is definitely possible but it does take some planning and thought

Reply

another outspoken female March 26, 2010 at 22:13

Great post. I’m glad the research is validating what is so obvious – that non-dairy sources of calcium do the job of keeping bones strong, just as well. Though there are so many nutritional factors (D, sodium, magnesium etc) in determining whether the calcium can actually get into, and stay, in the bones.
I’m wondering how the Oxford research results compares with the Harvard nurses study, which shows that milk/dairy-foods offered no significant protection from fractures in the 12 year study. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1380936/?tool=pmcentrez).
Genius recipe too!

Reply

Kasey March 26, 2010 at 22:36

I love white beans, but would have never thought to pair them with figs (another one of my faves!). Thanks so much for sharing.

Reply

Arwen from Hoglet K March 26, 2010 at 22:41

Sounds like an interesting study. I don’t think I could bear to give up dairy, but it’s nice to hear about other ways to get calcium. The pink peppercorns are nice for a touch of colour. I love your rosehips too.

Reply

Johanna March 27, 2010 at 16:04

lovely recipe again and interesting to hear your attitudes on calcium in vegan and vegetarian diets – I have been returning to an old favourite – baked beans on toast which I have read has a good nutritional balance but am always looking for new ideas to eat beans and this one is definitely one that intrigues me (have already tried the tomato tofu and it is fantastic)

Reply

Elaine March 28, 2010 at 04:31

Oh, this sounds & looks so delicious.
I’m glad you found my calcium posts helpful, Sophie. Thanks for pointing out that important result in the EPIC study. You are so skilled at explaining research in plain language.
Lovely photos, as always.

Reply

Jessica April 7, 2010 at 03:12

I love beans! I’m definitely gonna try this one to be my lunch. Err…I’m on a diet so don’t ask me why this is the only thing I’ll eat for lunch haha! Thanks for sharing Sophie!

Reply

Monica April 9, 2010 at 13:44

I am drooling over your cannelini bean toasts. I’ve made a similar white bean “pate” with sundried tomatoes and parsley, but the figs and rosemary sound absolutely heavenly. Beautiful photos, too.

Reply

steff (steffsays) April 12, 2010 at 14:27

my boyfriend tried out this recipe last night as part of our weekend cooking challenge! there’s a post about it on my blog. thanks for the recipe! :)

Reply

Gwen April 21, 2010 at 02:04

That sounds absolutely wonderful! In fact, maybe the perfect dish! I really can not wait to try it, I’m sure it is divine! thank you!

Reply

The Purple Foodie June 15, 2010 at 09:24

This looks delicious. A very unusual flavour combination for me – very interesting.

Reply

Previous post:

Next post: