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.