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Foods

Beans, dried

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

If dried beans aren't a regular part of your diet, you're missing out on one of nature's truly perfect foods. They supply abundant complex carbohydrates and are also a rich source of protein--in fact, beans contain a higher proportion of protein than any other plant food. Although the protein is incomplete, it can easily be complemented by serving the beans with rice or other grains, nuts (or, for non-vegetarians, a small amount of animal protein, such as chicken, fish, cheese, or yogurt) that supply the missing amino acids.

Beans are the plant kingdom's second-best source of dietary fiber (wheat bran is number one), and half of that is soluble fiber. Beans are also an excellent source of folate (folic acid), with adzuki beans, black-eyed peas, lentils, and pinto beans the leading choices for this important B vitamin.

In addition, most beans supply substantial amounts of iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, and thiamin. Add to this the fact that beans are both inexpensive and versatile, and you have a nutritional and culinary combination that's hard to beat.

Varieties

In addition to the commonly available beans listed below, there are literally hundreds of other varieties available regionally, at gourmet food shops, and through mail-order sources. Many of these are "heirloom" varieties--once popular beans that are no longer raised on a large scale. Most basic beans are available canned as well as dried; canned beans are convenient, although their mushy texture and excessive saltiness are drawbacks for some uses.

Adzuki beans (also called azuki beans): These small red beans, often found in Chinese or Japanese markets, have a soft texture and a slightly sweet flavor. They are available dried, and processed in the form of red bean paste, which consists of mashed red beans, shortening, and sugar. The paste is used in making Asian desserts. Try cooked adzuki beans with rice, barley, or other mild-flavored grains.

Black beans (turtle beans): These pea-size, jet black oval beans have an earthy, almost smoky flavor and a soft, mealy texture. A staple in most Latin American cuisines, they are used in such dishes as black beans and rice, refried beans, bean burritos, and, of course, black bean soup. They are also popular in Japanese and Chinese cooking.

Black-eyed peas (cowpeas, black-eyed beans): Marked by a single black spot on their skin, these kidney-shaped, creamy white legumes have a pealike flavor and firm, resilient texture (if not overcooked). They are available dried, canned, or frozen; fresh black-eyed peas can be found during the summer months in certain areas. A popular New Year's dish in the South is Hoppin' John, a pairing of black-eyed peas and rice, said to bring good luck for the coming year. Try black-eyed peas in salads, too.

Cannellini: This is the Italian name for white kidney beans.

Chickpeas (garbanzos, garbanzo beans, ceci): See Chickpeas

Cranberry beans: These nutty-flavored oval beans, available fresh or dried, have splashes of pink on their beige skins. Use them in casseroles, chilies, soups, and stews.

Fava beans (broad beans): Dried favas look like large lima beans; they have a mealy, granular texture and an assertive, slightly bitter flavor. Their thick skins need to be peeled before eating. Fava beans are sometimes available skinned and split. Popular in Italian, Greek, and other Mediterranean cuisines, they combine well with pungent herbs and other strong-flavored ingredients.

Flageolets: These kidney-shaped, pale green beans are actually immature kidney beans. In France, they are traditionally eaten with lamb, but they can be served on their own as a side dish, added to soups and stews, or used in cold salads.

Great Northern beans: Kidney-shaped, these are the largest of the white beans. Their mild flavor makes them ideal in any baked bean recipe or casserole, as well as in soups and stews. They may be substituted for cannellini beans.

Kidney beans: Named for their shape, these large, meaty beans may be dark red, light red, or white. Kidneys are the favorite choice for chili, and are also good in soups, salads, and casseroles. White kidney beans are also called cannellini, and are a typical ingredient in Italian dishes such as minestrone.

Lima beans: One of the most widely available beans, limas come in two sizes: large limas, called Fordhooks or butter beans, and baby limas, a smaller, milder-tasting variety. Both are sold frozen as well as dried and canned. For more information, see Lima beans.

Mung beans: Most familiar in the form of bean sprouts, mung beans are small greenish-brown, yellow, or black legumes. They cook more quickly than most dried beans and become soft and sweet-tasting. Look for them in health-food stores and Asian markets.

Navy beans (small white beans, pea beans): A smaller version of Great Northern beans, these are denser, less mealy, and more mildly flavored. They can be used in recipes that call for Great Northern or white beans.

Pinto beans: These medium-sized long "painted" beans are a reddish tan, mottled with brown flecks. The most popular beans in the United States, they contain more fiber than any other legume. Their earthy flavor makes them a favorite in Mexican dishes; they can be substituted for kidney beans in chili.

Red beans: Medium-sized oval beans with a terra-cotta color, these have a rich, savory flavor that makes them the perfect choice for chilies or soups, or for combining with rice.

Soybeans: See Soybeans

Split peas: These favorite soup ingredients are classified as "dry legumes," to differentiate them from fresh green peas. Once these peas are dried and their skins removed, they split apart naturally. Removing the skins also lowers their fiber content. Green split peas are favored in the United States and Great Britain, while yellow split peas, which have a more pronounced nutlike flavor, are preferred in Scandinavian and other northern European countries. Neither type requires presoaking, and both cook quickly. In addition to soups, they make wonderful side-dish purees. They work well in casseroles, since they hold their shape better than split peas. Whole dried peas are available in some areas.

Availability

Dried and canned beans are widely available in supermarkets, usually located near the rice.

Shopping

When buying packaged beans, look for undamaged boxes or bags of uniformly sized beans. If you buy beans in bulk, examine them carefully for insect damage, which sometimes shows up as pinhole-sized marks. Check that the beans are not cracked or broken.

Storage

Store beans in a well-sealed container at room temperature; they should keep for up to a year. Be aware, though, that older beans will take longer to cook. Do not mix a new supply of beans with older ones; the mixture of old and new stock will cook unevenly.

Store any leftover cooked beans in tightly closed containers in the refrigerator, where they will keep for three to four days. You can also freeze the beans; they will keep for several months. To freeze the beans, spread them out on a baking sheet until they are frozen, then place them in a tightly closed container. This way the beans will not freeze in a clump and you can use them a bit at a time.

Preparation

Dried beans should be picked over before cooking; spread them on a white kitchen towel so that you can easily see and discard any dirt, debris, or damaged specimens. Then place them in a strainer and rinse them well under cold water.

Beans are cooked in water until tender; adjust the cooking time to the final use you have planned. For instance, for salads, cook the beans until just done, firm but not mushy; for soups and purees, cook them until they are very soft.

Soaking beans: Dried beans are usually presoaked to shorten their cooking time. Without presoaking, the cooking time may increase by an hour or more. You can quick-soak beans in an hour, or soak them for eight hours or overnight (in the refrigerator). For either method, place the beans in a large pot (they will double in size during soaking) and add enough water to cover: about 10 cups of water per pound of beans, or two to three times the beans' volume in water. For quick-soaking, bring the water to a boil and cook for two minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for one hour. For long soaking, let the beans stand in cold water at room temperature for no longer than eight hours. For longer soaking, or in warm weather, place the pot of beans in the refrigerator; otherwise they will begin to ferment.

Cooking beans: With either soaking method, pour off the soaking water. Then add the required amount of fresh water or broth; the liquid should cover the beans by about 2". Bring the liquid slowly to a boil, skimming off the scum that rises to the surface. When the liquid boils, reduce the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer until the beans are tender. Stir occasionally, and add more water, if necessary. The beans are done when they can be easily pierced with the tip of a knife. The amount of time it takes to cook beans varies with the size, density, and age of the bean. Small beans such as mung and adzuki take 30 to 40 minutes to cook (after soaking). Medium-size beans (the bulk of the bean family), such as black beans and kidney beans, take 1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Black Beans/1/2 cup cooked

114
Total fat (g)
0.5
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
7.5
8
Carbohydrate (g)
20
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
1
Thiamin (mg)
0.2
Folate (mcg)
128
Magnesium (mg)
60
Manganese (mg)
0.4

Kidney Beans (red)/1/2 cup cooked

112
Total fat (g)
0.4
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
6.6
8
Carbohydrate (g)
20
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
2
Folate (mcg)
115
Iron (mg)
2.6
Manganese (mg)
0.4
Phosphorus (mg)
126

White Beans/1/2 cup cooked

124
Total fat (g)
0.3
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
5.6
9
Carbohydrate (g)
23
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
5
Folate (mcg)
72
Iron (mg)
3.3
Manganese (mg)
0.6
Potassium (mg)
502

Pinto Beans/1/2 cup cooked

117
Total fat (g)
0.4
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
7.4
7
Carbohydrate (g)
22
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
2
Folate (mcg)
147
Phosphorus (mg)
137
Manganese (mg)
0.5


Date Published: 04/19/2005
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