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Good Old Beans

Timeless Nutrition Tips...

Poor beans, the most neglected members of the vegetable world. We take them for granted, yet they are the supporting characters of many meals. Soups, entrees, casseroles, side dishes, and even many desserts would be thin and monotonous without the addition of beans.

Different Kinds of Beans

Until you mash, puree, or fry them, you haven't experienced their versatility. Pureed, they can be used as a basis for sauces, "cream" soups, and baking recipes; mashed, they provide texture for sauces, casseroles, entrees, and side dishes.

Beans come in an amazing array of colors, shapes, and flavors. They can be traditionally or quickly prepared, depending on your preference.

Nutrient-Rich Legumes

According to the Michigan Bean Commission, here is what beans have to offer nutritionally.

  • A cholesterol-free, low-fat food by nature, beans are also high in fiber.
  • Beans supply more calcium and iron per cup than 3 ounces of cooked meat. What's more, beans have fewer calories.
  • Biting into a banana is a commonly known means of getting our potassium, but it is interesting to note that one-cup of cooked beans will actually give you more.

Canned beans are ready to use! Simply open and pour. Frozen beans (black-eyed peas, Great Northern, soy, and kidney beans in the frozen food section of the grocery) need a very short amount of cooking time. Fresh beans, such as baby limas, soybeans, and black-eyed peas, can be found at farmers' markets and in the produce section of some grocery stores. Fresh beans require very little cooking time, as they have not been dried and don't have to be rehydrated.

Cans for beans

Dried beans do not necessarily need to be soaked. In fact, with today's harvesting techniques, dried beans tend to be fresher so they are not tough. A great deal of soaking might result in mushy beans, and a decrease in some nutrient content. Some people feel that soaking beans increases the beans' social acceptability, as it may decrease some of the fiber content, and therefore, some of the intestinal gas production (to put it politely!) associated with beans. If you choose not to soak, simply rinse beans, cover with lots of water, and allow to simmer until soft. Never cook beans quickly or over high heat, as this will toughen the skins.

If you haven't already, explore ethnic markets. All types of beans and legumes form a base for ethnic cuisines. Asian sweet beans, such as mung or red beans, are available canned. There is a Filipino dessert, halo-halo, which is made by combining sweet beans, palm seeds, and young coconut in a nonreactive (glass or plastic) bowl or container. Allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes and serve over soy ice cream, sorbet, or shaved ice. Halo-halo is available canned, but it does contain sugar. You might want to purchase individual ingredients and prepare your own mix. Serve this as a dessert sauce for fruit, muffins, and quick breads (such as carrot cake or zucchini bread).

Central and South American cuisines, as well as American Southwestern, give us red beans that can be simmered with chilies, onions, and tomatoes, and mashed or pureed; black beans stewed with garlic and peppers (pureed, this an excellent sauce); and white beans used to thicken soups.

Indian, Mediterranean, and French cuisines use lentils, available in green, gray, black, yellow, and orange, each with a distinctive flavor and texture. Stew lentils with cracked black pepper and diced tomatoes, then puree and use as a sauce for baked potatoes, jasmine rice, or summer squash.

Hummus And lest we forget, the mighty garbanzo bean (also called ceci bean or chickpea) is the main ingredient in hummus. Use hummus (pureed garbanzo beans with garlic, lemon juice, and tahini paste) not just as a dip, but as a hot or cold sauce for sandwiches, cooked or chilled veggies, and for pasta (for example, penne pasta sauteed with chopped bell pepper, minced garlic, diced onions, minced parsley, and hummus!).

Beans offer fiber and protein with little or no fat or sodium (unless they're canned), with vitamins and minerals to boot. The key to bean sauces is to pair flavor and texture with the menu items. Mild items, such as pasta, rice , steamed grains, and squash will benefit from spicy, chunky sauces. Try bean salsas; prepare a tomato salsa and add cooked beans, such as black beans, baby limas, white beans, or kidney beans. Leave the salsas chunky to add texture.

Another spicy sauce is a preparation of black beans cooked with fresh chilies, garlic, red pepper flakes, and onions. Leave most of the sauce whole, but puree a small amount and stir it back in for some smoothness and fluidity. Spicier or chewier menu items go well with smoother, milder sauces, such as hummus; white beans cooked with thyme, oregano, and tomatoes; or butter beans (baby limas) cooked with carrots, parsley, and celery. Puree these combinations and serve over grilled, garlicky vegetables, marinated tofu, or smoked seitan.

Storing Beans

Refrigerate cooked beans for 4 to 6 days, or in freezer up to 6 months.

Gas Free Beans

To really get gas free beans without having to take something to ... shall we say, "cure the problem", know that the secret is in the soaking.

Soaking for Gas Free Beans

  • In a large pot, cover beans with filtered water. Soak overnight.
  • Drain beans, rinse thoroughly, and add four cups fresh water for each cup dry beans. Place in a large pot with a tight lid.
  • Add a 3 to 4-inch strip of kombu* (a sea vegetable) to make beans easier to digest.
  • Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 to 4 hours, depending on variety. Cook beans until they are soft.

Short-soak method: Cover beans with water and boil five minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and set aside for two to three hours. Drain and rinse, then cover with fresh water and cook as above.

*Kombu is an important part of Japanese cuisine. Kombu is also eaten in other parts of Asia as well; it can be found fresh, dried, pickled, and frozen in many Asian markets. Since most cooks use their kombu shredded, some stores sell nalto kombu, which is preshredded kombu.

Seaweed can also be purchased fresh in some parts of the world, although it does need to be used quickly because it has a short shelf life. Always wash fresh kombu before using it. As an alternative, some stores sell frozen kombu for consumers who want the fresh flavor and a longer shelf life.

Enjoy the following bean recipes!

Cinnamon-Bean Cake

If you want to go really "beany" with this cake, visit an Asian market and purchase canned sweet bean preparations (such as sweet mung beans). These can be pureed and used as a dessert sauce over the cake.

1 cup canned navy or pinto beans, drained
1 package (15 ounces) white or yellow vegan cake mix
1/2 cup finely chopped canned or cooked apples (or chunky applesauce)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Grease one 8-inch (square) baking dish or cake pan. Puree beans with the amount of water called for on cake box directions.

In a large mixing bowl, combine beans, cake mix, apples, and spices and mix until well blended. (With an electric mixer, this should be 3 minutes on medium speed.) Pour cake batter into pan and bake according to package directions. Cool and serve.

Note: This cake can be baked and frozen for later use. Instead of frosting, serve squares of cake with slices of fresh fruit (mango, pineapple, and peaches come to mind), or with sorbet or soy ice cream.

Yield: one 8-inch cake or approximately 10 servings

Total calories per serving: 212
Carbohydrates: 39 grams
Sodium: 330 milligrams
Fat: 5 grams
Protein: 3 grams
Fiber: 2 grams

Printable copy Cinnamon-Bean Cake recipe

Sweet and Sour Bean and Barley Sauce

This can double as a thin stew or a hearty sauce; as a sauce, serve over couscous, toasted barley, kasha, or brown rice. You can freeze leftovers.

1/2 cup dried white beans
3 cups peeled and cubed eggplant
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 quart canned diced tomatoes, with juice
2 teaspoons chopped fresh basil
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 ounces orange juice concentrate
1 pound barley, cooked and drained
2 teaspoons ground black pepper

Soak beans in water to cover until they have doubled in size (at least 3 hours). Drain and place in a medium-sized saucepan. Cover with fresh water and cook until tender, about 40 minutes. Drain and set aside. Place eggplant in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and allow to drain for 20 minutes. Rinse eggplant and squeeze out excess water.

Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add onions and garlic and saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add eggplant, stirring, and cook for 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, lemon juice, and orange juice concentrate. Cover and simmer until eggplant is tender, about 20 minutes.

Add cooked beans and barley; and stir to combine. Season with pepper. Serve as a chunky sauce or puree in your blender or food processor to the desired texture. Yield: 1/2 gallon or sixteen 4-ounce servings

Total calories per serving: 173
Carbohydrates: 34 grams
Sodium: 90 milligrams
Fat: 3 grams
Protein: 6 grams
Fiber: 2 grams

Printable copy of Sweet and Sour Bean and Barley Sauce recipe

Bean, Mustard and Horseradish Sauce

This cold sauce can be used as a salad dressing, dip for chips or raw vegetables, or as a sauce for chilled, cooked asparagus, broccoli, or cauliflower. Use some of this sauce to replace a portion of the mayonnaise in potato, pasta, or macaroni salad -- but be careful as it does have some kick!

1/8 cup prepared horseradish
1/4 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1/3 cup olive oil
4 cups canned white beans or great northern beans, drained and pureed smooth
1/2 cup drained and chopped pimientoes
1/4 cup diced celery
1/2 cup pitted and chopped green olives
1 tablespoon dried rosemary

In a medium-sized nonreactive bowl, combine horseradish, vinegar, mustard, oil, and beans. Mix to combine and set aside. In a blender or food processor, puree pimientoes, celery, and olives until smooth. Stir in rosemary. Add pimiento blend to bean mixture, and mix to combine. Serve immediately or refrigerate until ready to use.

Note. If a milder salsa is desired, use bell pepper or Anaheim chili instead of the jalapeno (measurement remains the same). If using fresh or frozen black-eyed peas, use 2 cups and reduce pea cooking time to 30 minutes or less. Yield: 8 portions

Total calories per serving: 120
Carbohydrates: 24 grams
Sodium: 14 milligrams
Fat: 1 gram
Protein: 7 grams
Fiber: 4 grams

Printable copy of Bean, Mustard and Horseradish Sauce recipe

Southwestern Red Bean Sauce

Serve this colorful sauce over rice, white or black beans, cut corn, or grilled veggies. It can also be used as an ingredient in soups or in casseroles instead of tomato sauce or tomato juice.

1-1/2 cups cooked or canned red beans, drained
1/2 cup fresh tomatoes (see details below)
2 tablespoons diced red onion
4 fresh chilies, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate
2 tablespoons vinegar
2 tablespoons water
Vegetable oil spray
3/4 cup diced fresh pineapple

Place beans in a large bowl and set aside.

Blacken tomatoes, either in the oven at 400 degrees on a baking sheet until peel is blackened, or over an open flame. Peel and chop. Place tomatoes, onion, chilies, garlic, orange juice concentrate, vinegar, and water in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

Spray frying pan, heat, and add pineapple. Saute until soft, about five minutes. Remove pineapple and add pureed mixture to frying pan. Over high heat, stir pureed mixture for 1 minute. Add pineapple and pureed mixture to beans and mix to combine. Serve hot. Note. Canned, drained pineapple may be used if fresh pineapple is not available; this will give a sweeter flavor to the sauce. Yield: 2-1/2 cups or five 1/2 cup servings

Total calories per serving: 142
Carbohydrates: 27 grams
Sodium: 5 milligrams
Fat: 2 grams
Protein: 7 grams
Fiber: 8 grams

Printable copy of Southwestern Red Bean Sauce recipe

Black Bean and Mango Sauce

Served over rice, this makes a wonderful entree! Or, serve over steamed quinoa, barley, or couscous. This sauce also makes a great basis for a Caribbean chowder; just allow it to cook a bit longer to reduce and add cooked, diced potatoes, cut corn, and green peas.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped white onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons minced bell pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
4 cups cooked or canned, drained black beans
4 tablespoons time juice
1 cup pitted and chopped, fresh, ripe mango
Lime wedges
Chopped green onions
Chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in a large frying pan. Add onions, garlic, bell pepper, ginger, and cumin and saute until onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Turn heat to low and add beans and lime juice. Saute for 5 more minutes or until beans are heated. Add the mango and stir and mash for 5 more minutes.

Serve immediately Garnish with lime wedges, chopped green onions, and fresh cilantro. Yield: 6 servings

Total calories per serving: 231
Carbohydrates: 38 grams
Sodium: 18 milligrams
Fat: 5 grams
Protein: 11 grams
Fiber: 13 grams

Printable copy of Black Bean and Mango Sauce recipe