Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Beans: Super Nutrition for a Low Price

Several months ago, in my post about weekly meal planning, I promised to write more about the nutritional benefits of beans, and to include some detailed recipes.  I appreciate your patience these last few months while I have been busy teaching, promoting my new book, and writing about my faith during some important liturgical seasons: Advent and Christmas.

So, beans are some of the most nutrient dense foods per calorie.  They are high in protein, calcium, folate, and fiber.  The beans with the most color, especially pinto, black, kidney, and lentils, also have the most anti-oxidants.  A diet high in beans can help prevent cancer (especially of the breast, prostate, and colon), constipation, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.  All those nutrients and the fiber, along with the fact that beans absorb water, make you feel full, so they can help you with weight loss, too.

To combat the gas that many people experience after eating beans, soak them before cooking (directions below), skim off the foam that rises to the top of the water while cooking, and eat beans slowly, chewing them well.  If you are eating canned beans, this last one is your only option.  Make sure you rinse canned beans to remove excess salt.

Beans are the only plant protein that contains the amino acid lysine, so they make a great complement to other plant proteins and wonderful vegetarian meals.  Also, beans contain calcium, which is lost during protein digestion, so they can prevent calcium deficiency.  More calcium is lost digesting animal proteins than plant proteins, so eating more vegetarian meals based around beans can help maintain calcium in the body.

In addition, beans are inexpensive, compared to meat and seafood.  Meals centered on beans can save you money, and cooking a large pot of beans gives you the flexibility to create several meals at low cost.

Still not convinced?  Basing meals around beans makes meal preparation and planning easier.  What could be better than that, especially when your schedule is full with so many tasks?

If you are not in the habit of basing your meals around beans, I urge you to try it.  My family loves eating beans at any meal and as a snack.  My children ask me to cook beans and prepare tostadas, a traditional Tex Mex meal, regularly.  They even like reading books about beans!  We especially like Sopa de frijoles/Bean Soup by Jorge Argueta, which is actually a poem about cooking beans for your family.  The recipe in the book is nearly the same as what I will outline below, and it is a fun read.  Plus, the book is a poem!

Start with dried beans that are not too old.  How can you tell?  Beans sold in bags that have powder inside the bag have been stored too long.  Some brands print a “packaged on” date on the bag, so look for the most recent one.  If you buy your beans in bulk from bins, get them from a store that has a high turnover for their bean bins.

Sort your beans before you rinse them, removing those that have been cut, broken, bitten, or discolored.  Take out any pebbles or round balls of dirt, too.  I usually fill my two cup measuring cup to the brim, which gives us enough cooked beans for at least three meals.  After rinsing, place the beans in water to cover.  You can leave them to soak at room temperature overnight and/or all day before cooking, or bring them to a boil for about ten minutes and then turn them off to soak for at least three or four hours.  You can combine these soaking methods if needed, and be sure to add more water if it gets soaked up or boils off.  Here is what pinto beans look like after soaking, first in the water, and then after they have been rinsed.

Place the soaked beans in fresh water, add salt to taste, and bring to boil.  Skim off the foam that rises to the top and reduce heat.  Cook for 1 ½ - 2 hours, depending on how long the beans have been stored and how long they were soaked. Add more water if needed.

You can add additional seasonings to your beans during or after cooking, but they will taste wonderful just as they are.  We always eat them hot, in bowls with toppings, or on a plate with fresh bread or tortillas the first night.  We usually have the makings for toppings on hand: chopped tomatoes, chopped avocadoes, chopped onions, salsa, Mexican crema (or sour cream), cilantro, or shredded cheese.  Try any or all of these for a satisfying and nutritious meal.

Use the beans that are left to make tostadas another night.  Place beans in a sauté pan with a little oil.  Smash with your potato smasher, or whirl them in the blender before placing them in the pan.  Once they are warmed, spread them on flat tostadas (crispy baked corn tortillas) and top with any or all of the following: lettuce, tomatoes, avocado, shredded cheese, salsa, crema.  Sometimes, we even make faces on the tostada, just for fun.

I have cooked pinto, black, and red beans, as well as black eyed peas, using this method, and have refried both pinto and black beans.  Lentils and black eyed peas do not need soaking, but will cook just fine after soaking if you want to prepare them this way.  You can find my suggestions for using leftover cooked and refried beans here.  I’ll write more posts with bean recipes in the future, I promise.

Reminder: I’m giving away a copy of my new book, Entre la claridad this week.  See my last post for details on how to enter the drawing.  FYI: If you are reading this post after January 2012, this giveaway has already happened.

Disease-Proof Your Child  by Joel Fuhrman, M.D.


  1. I'm looking forward to more bean recipes!! I've been looking for some new ones! Thanks sooo much!

  2. Thanks for this post, Elisa. I never really thought of using beans as the main course before with added toppings. We'll have to give it a try. I'm guilty of using canned beans. I think I'm going to try your method using dry beans. I bet they taste much better.

  3. Jen, let me know if your family enjoys beans prepared this way.

    Jennifer, I'm hoping to post more bean recipes in a week or two (or three).

  4. Great meal! I'm not a big beans fan. I'm not sure why, I think it's the texture although recently refried beans don't bother me that much :)

    Thanks for linking up!

  5. Beans is definitely an area we could do with learning about and eating more of. I occasionally put them in casseroles and that's it.

    Thanks for sharing at Motivational Monday.


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