Archive for Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Bean counters

USDA report that legumes may reduce heart disease, cancer compels chefs to search for healthy recipes

April 6, 2005


— Don't be surprised when friends start bringing bean dishes to potluck gatherings this spring. The 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines report which suggests that "diets including beans may reduce risk of heart disease and certain cancers" has everyone looking through their collections of bean recipes.

But the guidelines aren't recommending we gulp down bean dishes laden with fat, and many cooks are discovering they have few beans recipes from which to choose. After you eliminate a couple at the outset, namely the bacon-covered baked-bean casserole and the popular red beans with rice and sausage, you may not have many recipe choices left in the beans folder.

The shortage of popular and healthful bean recipes is being addressed even as you read this. Newspaper food sections, magazines, television food shows and restaurant chefs are adding bean recipe-focused features to their content. That doesn't even touch the thousands of bean recipes from all over the world already available on the Internet.

Beans are news and beans are in. That's great because beans are also inexpensive and widely available.

They are also easy to use in recipes and quick cooking -- well, canned beans are at least. Because many cooks don't have time to stand over a simmering pot and stir beans all day, canned beans are more suitable for most cooks to prepare than dried beans. Dried beans are fine for no-tend slow-cooker preparation, but when it comes to quick cooking and recipe versatility, canned beans are the way to go.

Interestingly enough, canned beans have been the chosen method to feed the masses, or in the early days of canning, the armies, for nearly 200 years.

Human beings have been eating dried beans for about 10,000 years. According to archaeological finds, both the ancient Greeks and Egyptians ate bean dishes made from dried beans, and the Egyptians actually put dried beans in the tombs of the Pharaohs as food for the afterlife.

But it was a military leader, Napoleon Bonaparte, who offered a cash prize to whoever could develop a reliable method of food preservation for cheap, staple foods that could feed Bonaparte's far-ranging French army and navy in the late 18th century.

A food reference Web site,, says that Nicholas Appert conceived the idea of preserving food in bottles, such as wine. After 15 years of experimentation, he realized if food is sufficiently heated and sealed in an airtight container, it will not spoil. In 1806, the French navy tested several canned meat, vegetable and fruit products, and was satisfied with the quality.

An Englishman, Peter Durand, took the canning process one step further and developed a method of sealing food into unbreakable tin containers. Canning facilities and factories were established in 1812 in New York City and in 1813 in England. As more and more of the world was explored, provisioning armies took on greater importance, populations moved from the countryside into cities, and the demand for inexpensive canned nutrient-dense foods grew.

Canned beans fit the profile.

Fast-forwarding to 2005, canned beans still bring those same nutrient-rich, good value advantages to consumer cooks. Now, too, we know far more about the nutritional profile of beans, namely that beans are low in total fat, contain no saturated fat or cholesterol, provide important nutrients such as fiber, protein, calcium, iron, folic acid and potassium.

Canned convenience

The health benefits from eating beans are cited in diet recommendations for fighting cancer and heart disease and managing diabetes and high blood pressure.

The 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that Americans eat more than three times the amount of beans they currently consume. This means we should be eating about 3 cups of beans a week.

Don't be surprised if you see more, and I mean a lot more, bean-based dishes on menus in the next few months. We're bound to try incorporating beans into salads and spreads to increase consumption to the recommended amount.

After testing recipes using dried beans that I cooked all day and canned beans that I could open and use in minutes, I really couldn't see a great deal of difference in the taste between the cooked dried beans and the cooked canned beans.

The convenience factor of canned beans is indisputable. I use canned beans in my home cooking. I have found that rinsing the beans before adding them to a recipe can remove some of the excess sodium.

Regarding the problem of canned beans having a "tinny" taste, which was a common complaint in the past, I think today's canned beans must have improved the processing, the cans, recipes or something because I don't detect a metallic off-flavor in the canned beans I use in recipes.

Like everyone else, I'm trying to widen my selection of bean recipes. Here are a few I've tried and a few more that I want to try.

Tuscan bean and sun-dried tomato soup

1 cup medium pasta shells (e.g. cavatelli)

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small white onion, chopped

6 garlic cloves, sliced

2 teaspoons dried rosemary

or 3 tablespoons fresh

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

2 cups water

1/2 cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained

1 medium carrot, chopped

Two 16-ounce cans each cannellini beans, drained and divided

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste

Cook pasta according to package directions. At the same time, in a medium-size saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, rosemary, bay leaf and red pepper flakes.

Add 2 cups water, tomatoes, carrots and beans, reserving 1 cup whole beans. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then reduce heat, cover and simmer for 7 to 10 minutes. Puree vegetable mixture in blender or food processor and return to saucepan. Add pasta and remaining whole beans and heat through, adding water if too thick.

Ladle into bowls; top with cheese and fresh rosemary and serve.

Makes 4 servings.

Hearty three bean soup

14-ounce can beef broth

14 1/2-ounce can whole tomatoes, undrained and chopped

1/2 cup chunky-style salsa

15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed, drained

15-ounce can black beans, rinsed, drained

1/2 can kidney beans, rinsed, drained

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) taco shredded cheese

Chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

Combine broth, tomatoes and salsa in large saucepan. Heat to a boil; reduce heat. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Add all beans; cover and simmer 10 minutes. Ladle into 6 bowls. Stir 1/4 cup cheese into each bowl. Sprinkle with cilantro, if desired.

Makes 6 servings.

Black bean caviar

Three 16-ounce cans black beans

7-ounce jar pimentos

1 bunch scallions, sliced

1 tablespoon fresh oregano

1 tablespoon hot pepper sauce

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 bunch of parsley, chopped

3 jalapeno chilies, chopped

1 tomato, chopped

2 cups vinaigrette dressing

1 green bell pepper, chopped

3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

Drain beans and discard liquid. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir well. Refrigerate for at least 4 to 6 hours. Serve with crackers or chips and sour cream.

Makes 12 servings.

Potato nachos

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1 teaspoon Mexican seasoning blend

1 cup Mexican blend shredded cheese

1/4 cup rinsed and drained canned black beans

1/4 cup diced tomatoes

1/4 cup sliced black olives

1/4 cup sliced green onions

3 tablespoons canned diced green chilies

Salsa, guacamole and sour cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

Scrub potatoes and cut into half-inch thick wedges. Place potatoes into a medium-size bowl with the oil, garlic salt and Mexican seasoning. Stir well to coat potatoes with oil and seasonings. Transfer to a large baking sheet and spread into a single layer. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, stirring several times, until crisp and golden brown.

Top with cheese, beans, tomatoes, olives, onions and chilies. Bake for 5 minutes more to melt cheese. Serve with salsa, guacamole and sour cream.

Makes 4 servings.

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