Healthy cooking

Beans can’t be beat for nutrition, economy


Beans provide a convenient source of antioxidants, as well as protein, essential fiber, and vitamins and minerals.


Red Bean and Rice Soup

You can easily make this vegetarian by omitting the sausage and substituting vegetable broth. For a little zing, add 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne with the thyme.

1 pound dried red beans

1 tablespoon olive oil

6 to 8 ounces smoked turkey kielbasa, diced

1 medium onion, diced

2 ribs celery, diced

1 small red pepper, diced

2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons packed brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

4 to 6 cups no-salt-added chicken broth

2/3 cup raw rice (preferably brown)

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Rinse the beans in a colander, picking out any impurities. Cook them according to package directions, or in a slow cooker (see story), until cooked through but still firm. Drain beans, reserving cooking water.

Heat the oil over medium in a large, heavy pot, and cook kielbasa, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Stir in onion, celery, red pepper, garlic, brown sugar, thyme and bay leaves. Cook, stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vinegar and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot.

Add enough broth to the reserved cooking liquid to make 7 cups. Add it to the pot along with the beans and rice. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook until rice is tender, about 45 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Discard the bay leaves. Makes 8 servings.

Source: Adapted from The Washington Post.

Per serving: 340 calories, 20g protein, 53g carbohydrates, 5g fat, 1g saturated fat, 35mg cholesterol, 570mg sodium, 9g fiber.

If you’re a health-conscious cook, beans belong on your menu several times a week. Whether you are watching your cholesterol, concerned about diabetes or simply trying to eat less meat, beans can’t be beat.

Here are four key reasons:

•  Protein: A one-cup serving of beans contains as much as 16 grams of protein — 1/4 to 1/3 of our daily requirement.

• Vitamins and minerals: Beans are a good source of calcium, copper, zinc, iron and potassium, and B vitamins including folic acid.

• Fiber: Beans deliver 12 to 15 grams of fiber, both soluble and insoluble, per one-cup serving — half the recommended daily intake. Soluble fiber guards against constipation and promotes healthy cholesterol levels, while insoluble fiber wards off blood-sugar spikes.

• Antioxidants: Like blueberries, pomegranates and other more celebrated “super foods,” beans — especially deeply colored red and black ones — are an excellent source of the plant compounds thought to protect us from DNA damage associated with cancer and other ills.

If, like me, you’re a budget- as well as health-minded cook, buying dried beans is the way to go. The cost per serving is half that of canned beans, and the flavor is better.

I used to think from-scratch beans were too much trouble, but then I made a few changes in my method. Here’s my advice:

•  Don’t soak: Maybe the texture is slightly nicer if you do, but it’s not worth the bother.

•  Use a slow cooker: Put a pound of rinsed beans in a Crock-Pot, add 6 cups of boiling water and 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook on high. They’ll be done in 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

•  Cook in bulk and f reeze : Spread a pound of cooked beans on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and freeze. Transfer to a food storage bag, and measure out the frozen beans as needed.

•  Use the cooking water : When I learned that the same compounds that give black and red beans their color are the source of their antioxidant power, it seemed foolish to pour it down the drain. I incorporate it into my soups, as with the hearty red bean soup here.

A final note: If beans give you a lot of gas, you may want to soak them and discard both the soaking and cooking water, as there’s a school of thought that it ameliorates that problem somewhat.

Kathy Martin is The Miami Herald’s food editor.

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