Beans for Bucks

by Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD, CCE


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Beans have always been very economical and they are rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. Beans are available in many forms: dried, fresh, frozen and canned. They can be simply or elaborately prepared. When you have the time, take a tour of the canned bean aisle in a local market. You'll be able to spot many varieties of beans, including kidney, great Northern, kidney, white, black, garbanzo, butter beans (baby limas), black eyed peas and pinto, to name a few. In addition to the plain beans, you'll spot seasoned and baked beans or beans in sauce.

Remember that canned food has seasonal price fluctuations, so watch for price specials. Why do canned foods, including beans, have seasonal price fluctuations? Because canned fruit and vegetables begin as freshly harvested products. If you purchase near harvest, the price will be lower. Beans are generally harvested in the late summer and early autumn, so you should notice at least a slight price dip starting in September and continuing through the winter. Canned bean prices will begin to go up, at least a bit, in June and July. Last harvest's supplies are getting low and the new harvest is not quite ready for processing.

Have a ready supply of prepared beans on hand. This could be canned beans that simply need to be drained, frozen beans that need a fast steam or microwave, or dried beans that have been cooked, drained and stored in the refrigerator. Cooked beans can last up to three days in the refrigerator. If beans are cooked and ready to use, they will be easy to add to many dishes. This adds inexpensive protein, lots of flavor and texture, fiber, and calcium. In addition, you'll be stretching the number of portions that you get from a dish.

Beans can be added to dishes whole, mashed or pureed. Cooked beans can be mashed with a fork or pureed in a blender or food processor. In the good old days, traditional cooks would save the water that pasta was cooked in and used it to cook beans, which minimized nutrient loss and reduced water usage. Beans cooked in "pasta water" until soupy would be combined with cooked pasta and leftover vegetables to make "pasta fagiole" (say it "pasta fah zool") for a low cost, high nutrient dish.

Beans can fit into any meal. Cooked beans can be added to breakfast burritos, scrambled eggs, or tofu in the morning. Whole cooked beans can be added to soups, salads and pasta dishes for lunch or dinner. Pureed beans can be used as a base for dips, rather than higher fat dairy products.

Here are some fast and easy bean dishes:

  • Puree cooked or canned garbanzo beans. Then add garlic and lemon juice to create your own garbanzo bean dip (humus). Use as a dip for bread sticks or cut vegetables or as an alternate spread for mayonnaise on sandwiches.

  • Mash cooked garbanzo beans and toss with chopped onions, parsley and garlic. Form into patties and bake on a nonstick baking sheet. This is a non-fat version of falafel, a fried garbanzo bean patty.

  • Toss together three or four kinds of cooked beans, such as pinto, black and white. Mix them with a little vinegar and oil and serve as a side dish or toss them into green or pasta salad. Without the vinegar and oil, the bean combination can be stirred into chicken, vegetable or tomato soup to add flavor and texture. This bean combination can also be pureed and added to soup, which will give the soup a "creamy" appearance.

  • Puree cooked white or red beans and stir into a tomato or creamy pasta sauce. They're also great added to cream soups. They add flavor and texture and cut down on the amount of cream or sour cream needed. Beans are a lot less expensive and perishable than refrigerated dairy products.

  • Combine four types of cooked beans, such as black, great northern, black-eyed peas and pinto. Then add cumin, chili powder, chopped tomatoes and tomato puree and make a fast four-bean chili. Or heat them in a microwave and add chopped onions and peppers. Serve in a tortilla or pita bread, topped with chopped peppers, shredded carrots and bean sprouts. Another option would be to toss the four-bean combination with cooked pasta, a small amount of vegetable or chicken broth, and seasonings. Top with breadcrumbs and bake for a fast side dish or vegetarian entree.

Bean Guide

Broaden your bean horizon with some of the following bean varieties, available dried and canned. Some varieties will be available fresh and frozen

Great Northern Beans: They are medium in size, white, round and mild. They are good for baking or soups.

Cannellini Beans: This type of bean is kidney shaped, white or beige in color, very mild, and good for soups and casseroles.

Navy Beans: They are pea-sized, white or beige in color, very mild, and good for baking, soups and casseroles.

Pinto Beans: This type of bean is medium sized, kidney-shaped, pink, and good for pureeing in soups and sauces.

Kidney Beans: They are medium-sized and deep red in color. They are popular in chili, in cold salads, and in soups.

Black Beans: This type of bean is medium-sized and completely black. They are good for sautéing, steaming, and in rice and pasta dishes.

Lentils: Lentils are flat and small and fast cooking. They can be black, brown, gray, green, yellow or orange. They are good for vegetable stews, soups and in curries.

Split Peas: They are small and round. They can be green, yellow or white. You'll enjoy them pureed in soups and sauces.

Garbanzo Beans (chickpeas): This type of bean is small, round and beige. They are good in cold salads, pureed as a dip (humus) or mashed and baked into patties (falafel).

Edamame (fresh soybeans): Edamame is available fresh and frozen. Fresh soybeans are becoming very popular. They are pale green and resemble the bean found in string bean pods. Edamame can be eaten cold as a snack or tossed into salads or soups.

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