Malaysians start their day with coconut rice wrapped in banana leaves. Egyptians prefer slow-cooked fava beans in olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. In Myanmar, the traditional breakfast is fried rice with peas, whereas a normal Japanese breakfast is also rice, but with fish and pickles. As this global snapshot attests, the act of breakfast, or breaking the fast after a night's sleep, appears to be universal, but the particulars are not.
Closer to home, we Americans favor bagels, cereals, yogurt, smoothies or eggs. None of these staples satisfies me. In fact, I take a perverse pride in not having eaten a standard American breakfast in years. Here are my problems with each:
Bagels (and their cousins: scones, muffins, other pastries). Too big, too doughy. In one of my rare smart decisions concerning food, I weaned myself from most bread around the turn of the millenium and have never looked back. It was not about gluten, by the way. Gluten and I aren't besties but we're on cordial terms. No, the problem with bread is once I start, I find it very, very hard to stop — which is not a great way to start the day.
Cereals, including granola. Too sweet, too fast. I know, I could make my own granola and omit any sweetener but it's also ephemeral — here one minute, gone the next. Yes, I'm familiar with the Buddhist concept of impermanence. All is transitory, all is fleeting — but still! I want my granola to last, and it's gone before I know it. I've found that a small amount of preparation makes the meal feel longer.
Yogurt. Too cold. If I lived in the tropics, I'd probably be happy eating yogurt every morning. But living in a cool climate, I want breakfast to warm me and get my motor humming. Cold foods make me want to crawl back under the covers.
Smoothies. Also cold. Plus, I don't want to drink my breakfast, even if it's thick and shake-like; it doesn't feel like a real meal. I want something solid, not baby food.
Eggs. They work for me once in awhile, but not every day. I used to have a Sunday morning tradition of eating out and I'd always faithfully order poached eggs on toast. But even once a week seems too much now. And I never liked the sticky sensation of yolk on my teeth.
So what's left? Anything? In search of a warm, solid, filling breakfast, somewhere in the last 15 years, I invented a concoction I call "Warm Bean Stew Salad."
This hot breakfast doesn't take much preparation, yet provides those good-for-you elements like protein, greens and roughage. I like the friendly assault of contrasting tastes: the sweetness of caramelized onions; the crunch of pecans; the umami pungency in the miso. The dish is so satisfying, but I often have a second helping. Even then, there's usually enough left over for tomorrow's breakfast.
Warm Bean Stew Salad
For the beans:
1 can of cannellini or small white beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
½ cup sliced carrot
½ cup sliced zucchini
¼ cup tomato sauce
¼ cup parsley (optional)
Dash of rosemary or thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
Warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a cast-iron frying pan. Add the sliced onions. Cook them slowly, turning frequently, until they are caramelized. Set aside.
In a saucepan, sauté the other tablespoon of olive oil, the carrot and zucchini for about 5 minutes or until softened. Stir in the white beans, tomato sauce, parsley and seasonings.
For the salad:
1 cup spinach leaves
½ cup spring onions, chopped
5-6 white button mushrooms, sliced
4-5 cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ cup roasted pecans
For the salad dressing:
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
3 tablespoons yellow miso paste
Whisk the dressing ingredients together, adding water a tablespoon at a time to adjust the intensity to your taste.
Toss the salad ingredients and add a cup of the bean stew. Mix, drizzle with the dressing and enjoy.