Jean Ince | County Extension Agent Staff Chair
Dry beans, peas and lentils, known as legumes, are economical alternatives to more expensive meat, poultry and fish. When combined in a meal with small amounts of meat or grain foods, they provide a complete protein. In addition to protein, they are an excellent source of carbohydrates for energy, dietary fiber to lower the risk of heart disease and keep our gastrointestinal tract healthy, and several vitamins and minerals such as folate and iron. Nutritionists recommend eating several cups of dry beans, peas and other legumes each week.
Beans are frequently recommended as a nutrient-dense source of low-cost protein. A drained and rinsed 15- to 16-ounce can of cooked dried beans provides about three one-half cup servings for a side dish or enough beans to serve two people when mixed with other ingredients as a main dish. The cost of a 15-ounce can ranges from about 80 cents to $1.20 per can, but can be purchased for less when on special. The cost per serving is even less if you buy one- or two- pound bags of dry beans and cook them yourself. One pound of dry beans costs around $1.20 and makes 6 cups of cooked beans. That’s 12 one-half cup servings. If stored in a cool, dry place, canned and dry beans and peas will keep for up to a year. Storage in warm humid environments increases cooking time of dry beans.
Beans, peas and other legumes are mild-flavored and take on the flavor of seasonings and other foods in the recipe. This makes them a versatile ingredient for appetizers, soups, stews, casserole, salads, sandwiches and even desserts.
If you use canned beans, place them in a colander or strainer and rinse under cold running water to remove some of the sodium and gas-producing carbohydrates. When preparing dry beans, look carefully through the beans and throw away any foreign particles or beans that are discolored or shriveled. Dry beans need to soak to shorten cooking time. For a quick soak, place beans in a large pot and add 10 cups of water for every 2 cups of beans. Bring to boil and boil for two to three minutes. Allow to soak for an hour. Drain beans, discard soak water and rinse with fresh, cool water.
To cook dry beans, put the beans in a large pot and add fresh water to cover them. Heat beans and water to boiling, then turn the heat to LOW and cover the pot. Since beans soak up water, you may need to add more water during cooking. Add seasonings to the beans while they cook. Adding salt during cooking can extend cook times and possibly toughen the bean. When the beans are tender but firm, they’re ready to eat! Always check for suggested cooking times for different bean varieties.
For more information on stretching your food dollar, contact the Howard County Extension Office of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture at 870-845-7517 or visit our office located on the second floor of the courthouse.
Recipe of the Week
Try this recipe to help you increase your intake of beans and peas. I hope you find it delicious!
Pasta & Bean Soup
Makes 6 Servings
1 ½ Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 (14 ½ ounces) cans chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup cooked whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 (16 ounce) can white kidney beans, rinsed and drained, or 2 cups cooked white kidney beans
Sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil for a few minutes over medium heat. Add the tomatoes, chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Cook on low for 20 minutes. Add the cooked macaroni, beans, and cilantro. Heat through. Sprinkle with grated cheese and serve hot with crusty whole wheat bread, pita, or crackers.
Nutritional Facts: Calories: 216, Fat: 8 g, Carbohydrates: 27 g, Protein: 11 g, Dietary Fiber: 4 g