Eat at least a cup of beans weekly

What makes beans so good for us?

Here’s what the experts have to say:

Chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease all have something in common. Being overweight increases your chances of developing them and makes your prognosis worse if you do, says Mark Brick, PhD — which means that trimming your waistline does more for you than make your pants look better. Brick, a professor in the department of soil and crop sciences at Colorado State University, is investigating the ability of different bean varieties to prevent cancer and diabetes.

More than just a meat substitute, beans are so nutritious that the latest dietary guidelines recommend we triple our current intake from 1 to 3 cups per week.

“Beans are comparable to meat when it comes to calories “, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, a registered dietitian at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Wellness Institute in Chicago and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. But they really shine in terms of fiber and water content, two ingredients that make you feel full, faster. Adding beans to your diet helps cut calories without feeling deprived.

Black Beans

Black Eyed Peas

Our diets tend to be seriously skimpy when it comes to fiber (the average American consumes just 15 grams daily), to the detriment of both our hearts and our waistlines. One cup of cooked beans (or two-thirds of a can) provides about 12 grams of fiber – nearly half the recommended daily dose of 21 to 25 grams per day for adult women (30 to 38 grams for adult men). Meat, on the other hand, contains no fiber at all.

This difference in fiber content means that meat is digested fairly quickly, Brick says, whereas beans are digested slowly, keeping you satisfied longer. Plus, beans are low in sugar, which prevents insulin in the bloodstream from spiking and causing hunger. When you substitute beans for meat in your diet, you get the added bonus of a decrease in saturated fat, says Blatner.

Pinto Beans

A study conducted at the University of Kentucky has shown that only three weeks of increased bean intake (3/4 cup of navy or pinto beans) lowered the men’s cholesterol by an average of 19%. This reduces the risk of heart attack by almost 40%.

Red Beans

In a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, researchers measured the antioxidant capacities of more than 100 common foods. Small red beans, red kidney beans, and pinto beans made the top of the list. And three others — black beans, navy beans, and black-eyed peas — achieved top-40 status.

How To Cook With Beans

Beans certainly hold up better in the industrial canning process than many other vegetables, but there are still many good reasons to cook your own, not the least of which, is the fact that so many canned varieties come packed with way more sodium than you need. Canned beans are a convenience but the taste difference in using cooked dried beans is very noticeable.

This recipe gives the beans a relatively neutral seasoning that leaves them easy to take in different directions. If desired, you can add herbs and spices to the cooking liquid, but resist the urge to add anything acidic, such as tomatoes, citrus, or vinegar, until the beans are cooked, or the skins of the beans will not soften as they should.

  • 1 pound dry beans of any variety
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 small yellow or white onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 large cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt, or more to taste

1. Rinse the beans, picking through them to remove any debris. Pour them into a bowl and add enough water to cover them by about 1 inch. Soak for at least 6 hours and preferably overnight.

2. Pour the oil into a medium pot over medium heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the carrot, celery, onion, and garlic. Cook until the vegetables start to soften, 5 to 6 minutes. Add the beans and their soaking liquid, and add more water as needed to cover by about 1 inch.

3. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low or medium-low so that the liquid barely simmers, cover, and cook the beans until tender, 1 to 2 hours (or even longer, depending on the variety and age of the beans).

4. Add the salt, and cook for another 10 to 20 minutes so that the beans absorb the salt. Taste, and add more salt if needed. If you’re not using the beans immediately, cool to room temperature and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or portion into heavy-duty freezer-safe plastic bags and freeze for several months.

Turkey Sausages with Spicy Beans

Serves: 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 turkey sausage links
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 pound cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 3 dried red hot peppers
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups cooked beans or 2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 5 fresh bay leaves
  • 2 handfuls fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped

Directions:

Heat a large high-sided saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil to heat. Once hot, add the sausages and brown on all sides, for about 8 minutes total. Remove the sausages from the pan to plate and reserve.

Add the garlic, and saute until golden and brown. With a wooden spoon, stir in the chopped tomatoes and red peppers and season with salt and pepper. Lower the flame, and cover the pan with a lid, simmer for 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down and thickened to a sauce-like consistency.

Add the browned sausages (and any juice left on the plate), beans, and bay leaves to the thickened tomatoes. Stir well and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Add the chopped parsley before serving.

Borlotti Bean Ragu 

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces pancetta, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup minced shallots
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 teaspoons finely chopped thyme leaves
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 7 cups cooked borlotti beans
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives

Directions:

Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat until very hot; preheating the pan will prevent the pancetta from sticking. Cook until crispy. Add the oil, shallots, garlic, 3 teaspoons of the thyme and the vinegar and stir and simmer for a minute. Add the beans and the chicken broth. Bring to a simmer to heat the beans through. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon thyme and additional salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the chives and serve.

Note: Borlotti are one of the many beans in the cranberry bean family. Originally from Colombia, Italians have bred them to have a thicker skin and possibly a creamier interior, making them ideal for dishes like this and for pasta e fagioli.

Lentil and Chicken Stew

Serve with slices of whole-grain baguette and a green salad.

2 servings, 1 3/4 cups each

Ingredients

  • 3 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 8 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast, diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon whole coriander or fennel seed, crushed (see Tip)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 14-ounce can reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup French green or brown lentils, sorted and rinsed (see Note)
  • 1 – 6 ounce bag baby spinach
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

Directions:

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook, stirring once or twice until no longer pink in the middle, about 2 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Add the remaining 2 teaspoons oil to the pan and heat over medium-low heat. Add carrot, garlic, coriander, salt and pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Stir in broth and lentils, increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the lentils are tender, 20 to 30 minutes (brown lentils take a little longer).

Add the cooked chicken, spinach and lemon juice and return to a simmer. Cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in dill.

Tips:

  • Cover and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months.
  • Place whole spices in a plastic bag and crush with the bottom of a heavy skillet or pulse in a spice grinder.
  • French green lentils are firmer than brown lentils and cook more quickly. They can be found in natural-foods stores and some large supermarkets.

Tuscan Shrimp with White Beans

Ingredients

  • 3 cups cooked with reserved cooking liquid or canned cannellini white beans, undrained
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 16 large shrimp, peeled (tail left on) and deveined
  • 4 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 small serrano chile, thinly sliced or 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 cup peeled, seeded and diced fresh tomato, canned or fresh
  • 1 cup whole basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons Italian flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Best-quality extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Directions

Drain the beans over a bowl and reserve the liquid. Put the white beans in a large skillet with just enough of their liquid to moisten them. Add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and bring the beans to a low simmer. Keep them warm while you prepare the shrimp.

Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the shrimp, season with salt and cook for about 1 minute, tossing frequently. Remove the shrimp with tongs to a bowl. Add the garlic to the pan and saute until the garlic browns. Add the serrano chile or chili flakes and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomato and basil and stir briefly, then add the lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Cook for about 1 minute, and then stir in the shrimp. Toss well and cook briefly to reheat the shrimp. Remove the shrimp mixture to a plate and sprinkle with parsley.

Spoon the white beans on a platter or individual plates. Drizzle them with the best olive oil you have, and then top with the shrimp. Serve warm.

Toscana Soup with Ditalini and White Beans

Servings: 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup chopped carrot
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 32 ounces low sodium chicken broth
  • 2 cups cooked or 1 can (19 ounces) cannellini beans, rinsed, drained
  • 4 large (about 4 cups) plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1-1/2 cups Ditalini pasta
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley, divided
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, divided

Directions:

Heat oil in large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrot, celery and garlic; sauté 3 to 4 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally.

Add broth and beans; heat to simmer.

Stir in tomatoes, Ditalini, 2 tablespoons parsley, oregano, pepper and salt.

Boil 10 to 12 minutes or until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in remaining parsley and 1/2 cup cheese. 

Serve with remaining cheese, crusty bread and a drizzle with olive oil, if desired.

Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Cookbook

The book has the story of Rancho Gordo, the different heirloom beans in the Rancho Gordo collection and of course lots of great recipes and ideas for using beans.

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