Everything’s Better with Beans!

January 19, 2011

Besides being delicious and versatile, virtually all types of beans are nutrient powerhouses - canned or dry? How do you choose?

Besides being delicious and versatile, virtually all types of beans are nutrient powerhouses - rich in protein, folic acid, magnesium and protective phytochemicals. Darker-colored beans are richest in heart-healthy, cancer-protective antioxidants, but all beans are beneficial to those looking to improve the nutrient density of their meals. Most beans are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, and slowly digested carbohydrates, with a gentler, even beneficial, effect on blood-sugar. Beans are especially filling and satisfying, even though they're fairly low in calories - about 100 to 125 calories per half-cup serving. Hearty, protein-packed (about 7 to 15g) and toothsome, beans closely match meat's nutrition and flavor profile, without the accompanying dose of saturated fat and for a fraction of the price. 

Cooking dried beans from scratch gives you the firmest texture and best flavor, and it's easy to do with a little advance planning. But there's no denying that canned beans are wonderfully convenient, and you're more likely to eat beans regularly if there are canned beans in your cupboard – but read those ingredient labels carefully as some of the canned varieties may add extra ingredients like salt, fat and even in some instances pork fat! So we're advocates of having both types on hand.

Beans are inexpensive, and offer at least six cups of cooked beans for six to twelve servings. Most packages are for a pound, but some are 12 ounces, so check the label if quantity is essential to your recipe.

Kidney beans are large, almost 3/4 inch, and have a definitive kidney shape and are nearly maroon in color. These are the beans to use in chili because they're hearty, and take well to spices. Cooking time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Light Red Kidney beans are similar to their darker relative and are the bean for the Southern dish, red beans and rice. Cooking time: 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Pinto (Pink) is the staple of Mexican cooking, and is a pinkish-mauve color that turns brownish when cooked. Some variations are mottled. Pintos look like brown medium ovals. Pintos are favored for whole or refried beans in burritos and tacos. Cooking times vary from 1 to 2 hours depending on size. 

Special note on Refried Beans or frijoles refritos: 
Refried beans begin with onions and garlic sautéed in lard or oil, to whichspoons full of cooked pinto beans are added, mashed, and cooked until they are thicker than mashed potatoes. Sometimes a little broth or water is added. The intriguing thing is that they are not re-fried at all. One theory for this misnomer is that in Mexican Spanish, "re" is a way to emphasize doneness, such as these beans are well-done or cooked thoroughly. They are not, however, fried two times.
Cranberry or Roman Beans are a favorite in Italian recipes. These medium mottled tan and red beans are oval in shape, take to spices well, and are very tender with modest cooking time 45 to 60 minutes. 

Garbanzo or Chickpeas, popular in Middle East cuisine, are the basis for hummus, the bean spread spiked with garlic and olive oil. They're an imperfect round beige color and give both a nut-like flavor and firm texture. Use whole in soups or salads or grind up cooked beans for hummus or for frying for falafel balls. Modest cooking time of 30 minutes to 1 hour. Skins should be discarded because they're difficult to digest.

Black-eyed Peas are the ones to bring luck into your life on New Year's Day as the Southern custom asserts. These beans are white with black dots and have a light very smooth texture. Cooking time: 30 to 60 minutes.

Black or Turtle Beans are medium sized black oval beans, that are popular in Caribbean cooking and adapt well to South and Central American dishes for which a heartier, earthier, smoother bean is desired. Cooking time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Navy beans are not navy blue as one would expect, but small white ovals that add a mild flavor to soups and salads and can be used in baked beans. They belong to the haricot bean (white bean) family, and cook in 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Great Northern beans are another relative of the haricot bean (white bean) family but larger than navy beans yet offer a similar mild white beantaste that is great in soups and stews and in the classic French dish, cassoulet. Cooking time: 45 to 60 minutes.

Limas are plump, slightly curved beans that are pale colored and come in two sizes: small baby lima and white with a creamy smooth texture or slightly larger butter beans that are pale green to white. Both are delicious alone or added to soups or casseroles. Cooking time: 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

The Battle of the Beans: Canned vs. Dry
Nearly every bean that is sold in dried form is sold pre-cooked in cans. Organic, low sodium and low fat varieties are also available. Dried beans are an inexpensive source of protein so it's hard to argue with the additional expense of buying precooked beans in cans. Compare soaking, cooking, and seasoning beans to buying precooked beans - all you need to do is open a can and use them in salads, or heat them up in other dishes. You'll easily save time. So, while you could get four cups of cooked beans from a package of dried beans for under 60 cents, and you get only one cup for 90 cents to $1.50 for canned beans, it's still such a modest investment that convenience here makes sense. 

How to Choose
Dried beans should look even in color, shape and size. It's important to rinse them before soaking to determine if there are any stray pebbles ordirt that escaped the package. Beans that look wrinkled or misshapen should be avoided. Soak dry beans according to directions, usually several hours to overnight, and cook completely from 1/2 to 2 hours. Salt after cooking to avoid toughening. Once cooked, they can be stored in the refrigerator for severaldays and added to salads, rice, pasta, or stews as desired.

Canned Beans can have a tremendous amount of sodium, from 140 to 500 mg for a half-cup serving, rinse canned beans thoroughly with cold water before using them to eliminate extra (but not all) of the sodium. In addition to high quantities of added salt, even low salt versions may contain additives or preservatives- read labels, all that is necessary to preserve cooked beans in cans are the beans, water, and salt. 

Storage tips
Store unopened bags of dry beans in a cool dark cupboard for a maximum of one year. Once the package is opened, either store the bag inside a zip lock plastic bag, or pour out the leftover beans into a porcelain, glass orstainless steel canister with a tight seal.

Store all unopened cans in a cool dark cupboard. Store leftover refried beans in a separate container with a well-fitting lid and refrigerate. Use within five days. Always buy cans that are clean and well-built; there should be no rusting or bulging.

Beans are good for your digestive system and cardiovascular system as well as overall health, SupermarketGuru suggests you go out and try a new type of bean today!