Health Habits: Beans

“Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart; the more you eat…” Well, you know how the rest of the song goes. You guessed it, today’s topic deals with beans.  Beans are economical and essential, especially now that we are home much more these days. They are a great as a side dish, recipe filler and protein source. The best thing about beans is the fact they are ideal for long-term storage.  Beans can also be hard to fix as part of a meal if one is not aware of a few important facts.

Preparing beans from the frozen or canned state can be easy, but dried beans may come with challenges.  The natural hard outer skin of the beans soften over time when cooked in water. When beans are purchased at the store, no one knows how old the beans are because they could be several years old.  The older the beans get, the tougher the outer skin becomes. Soaking beans before they are cooked is best due to that fact. Rehydration of beans will result in more evenly cooked and smooth beans rather than split and mushy beans. If beans happen to be an afterthought and there isn’t time for an overnight soak, a quick-soak method is available. 

Another challenge with cooking beans is making sure the cooking process doesn’t start with anything acidic. The hard outer skin and acid will react, causing the skin to become more impermeable, prolonging cooking time.  Acidic food such as vinegar, tomatoes, or lemon juice should be added towards the end of cooking time after the beans have softened. Onions, garlic, bell peppers, or chilies may be added at this time. The addition of food with stronger flavor profiles will help transform the bean dish into a masterpiece.

Flavor is an important component to our food and that includes beans. To add flavor, beans can be cooked with chicken or beef stock. Stock is a healthier option versus broth, which is heavier on the sodium and meat for flavor.  Stock is made by simmering bones with vegetables, spices, and herbs for hours in order to extract flavor.  For more flavor, one can sauté onions, garlic, peppers, herbs and spices before adding to the bean recipe towards the end of cooking. A tip to consider when cooking for others is to err on the conservative side with salt or pepper because it can be added, but not taken out. 

Armed with these tidbits of knowledge, you are encouraged to create a delicious pot of beans to go with the next meal.  If you are feeling adventurous, try making hummus with cannellini or the traditional garbanzo beans.  When the sweet tooth attacks, try black bean brownies or cookies. Add red kidney beans or navy beans for protein in your salad.  The list goes on and the possibilities are endless. Many may find more time on their hands and dried goods in the pantry due to the COVID pandemic.  Topics like this may seem small, but it counts because making a good pot of beans means less food goes to waste and fewer trips need to be made to the store. 


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