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PUBLISHED: 9:12 AM on Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Beans: A healthy low-cost food

  Helen Idzorek
Beans have been a favorite part of the human diet for thousands of years. In fact, archaeologists have found containers of beans that date to 6000 B.C. Eight thousand years later, beans and peas continue to make an excellent addition to any menu. They come in a rainbow of colors and varieties and with a little practice are easy to prepare.

Beans are soaked in 4 cups of water per 1 cup of dried beans. Once beans are soaked they usually double in size. A pound of dry beans, approximately 2 cups, will yield between 5-6 cups when cooked. In recipes, dried cooked beans can be used interchangeably with canned beans. For those on low-sodium diets, rinse the canned beans under cool running water to reduce the amount of sodium consumed.

A pound of beans typically costs $1.25 which means that 1 pound provides twelve ? cup servings for about $.10 per serving. Beans are a nutritious food choice because they are high in complex carbohydrates, protein, fiber and folate. Additionally, they are naturally low in fat and sodium and contain no cholesterol.

Because most beans cook for roughly an hour, it is important to factor the soaking and cooking time into their preparation. The following table provides the approximate cooking time for a variety of dried beans.

Tips for preparing beans

• Because moisture could cause beans to sprout, they are not washed prior to packaging.

• Do not add salt or acidic ingredients such as lemon, vinegar, wine, and tomatoes until the beans are soft or nearly done cooking. Adding these ingredients too early can prevent the beans from softening.

• Always discard the soak water to help reduce the discomfort of gas.

• If you suffer from the intestinal discomfort of gas, try the hot-soak method. (This is the quick soak method, but set aside for four hours or more). The longer soak time is recommended to allow more sugars to dissolve, thus helping the beans to be more easily digested.

• Some beans, such as blackeyed peas, do not need to be soaked because of their soft skins.

Preparing beans requires the following steps:

Sort

Before cooking, beans should be inspected. Sort through beans, discarding damaged beans or foreign objects such as rocks.

Soaking Methods

Beans can be soaked using one of two methods. Quick Soak: place 8 cups water and one pound sorted dry beans in a large pot. Heat to boiling. Boil for one to three minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let soak for at least one hour. Overnight Soak: place 8 cups water and one pound sorted dry beans in a large pot. Let sit overnight at least 8 hours.

Cook

Begin the cooking process by first draining and rinsing the soaked beans under cool running water. Return them to pot and cover with 6 cups of fresh hot water for each pound of beans. Boil gently until tender according to the cooking time chart above. Add hot water as necessary to keep beans covered in liquid.

Storage

After cooking beans refrigerate leftovers in their own liquid for up to 4 days or in the freezer for 3 months. Dried beans and peas can be stored in covered, airtight containers in a cool dry place for up to 2 years.

Bean Soup

Serves 4-6

1 lb dried white beans

6 cups water

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 lb potatoes

1/4 cup milk

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/2 cup chopped carrot

1/2 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1 small clove chopped garlic

1 1/2 teaspoon salt Soak beans according to directions above. Bring to a boil, add bay leaf and thyme, cover and cook over low heat until tender, 45 minutes-1 hour.

Meanwhile scrub potatoes and cut into quarters. In a separate pot boil until tender. Mash with a fork. Beat in milk.

Add potatoes and remaining ingredients to cooked beans, cover and cook gently for 1 hour, stirring occasionally and lightly mashing beans with the back of a spoon. Adjust seasonings as necessary.

Black Bean Salad

Serves 6

2 cups cooked black beans

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1/2 cup fresh, canned or frozen corn

1 chopped tomato

1 tablespoon olive oil

chopped jalapeno to taste

salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together and chill. Serve as a salad or with tortilla chips.

Beans are versatile, nutritious and inexpensive foods that are great in any season. Next time you are deciding what to make for dinner, incorporate a bean dish. A hearty bowl of bean soup or a zesty bean salad will provide a healthy, delicious meal for your family without putting a dent in your food budget.

Helen Idzorek is the nutrition educator for the Cooperative Extension Service University of Alaska Fairbanks, Juneau District.


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