Not that long ago, beans were far down on the food sophistication scale. You could politely describe them as economical. A cheap protein source, if you couldn’t afford meat. Times have changed. The focus on plant-based diets puts humble beans front and center for many good reasons:
- high protein
- high fiber
- full of other vitamins and minerals
- convenient (what’s more convenient than canned beans?)
- still economical
What other unprocessed food has all those characteristics? It’s strange then that so many plant-based diets and recipes talk more about highly processed fake meat instead of beans. In fact, I’ll make this Reason #9 to eat more beans: unprocessed.
I suppose you could argue that canned beans are actually processed, since they’re cooked. But you can’t eat beans that aren’t cooked, so that amount of “processing” is essential. If you have a multicooker, you can bypass the canned beans and cook your own dried beans pretty quickly. Multicooker instruction manuals have cooking suggestions for beans, and many packages of dried beans now include multicooker instructions. I’d caution you that not all of those instructions work as planned. Some don’t call for enough water, which can lead to an error warning and burned beans. Some have too much water. Some call for too much water and excessively long cooking time, so the beans come out mushy. If you cook beans and run into problems with instruction manuals, make notes so you get better results next time.
So many choices
With canned beans in the pantry, it’s easy to cook up a quick meal. What could be faster than rolling up a burrito with beans, cheese, salsa and chopped vegetables? Add beans to soup, or make a quick bean stew with vegetables and seasonings, garnished with grated cheese.
Adding small amounts of meat or sausage to bean casseroles or soups fits right in to my ‘sometimes vegetarian’ diet philosophy. Plus the small amounts of meat add flavor and boost the protein quality of the meal. These are just a few of the canned bean choices you can find in major grocery stores:
- Kidney beans: use in vegetable soups, or in a rich bean stew with mild Italian sausage
- Cannellini beans: make a lovely stew with kale or chard, garlic and tomato.
- Pinto beans: make chili, with cooked ground beef or pork
- Black beans: make black bean salad with fresh tomatoes, corn and jalapeno.
- Navy beans: add to vegetable soup
- Garbanzo beans: use in Indian curry dishes
- Red Beans: make a stew with Andouille style sausage, peppers, celery and onion.
- Black Eyed Peas: make Hoppin’ John, a traditional New Years dish that brings good luck. It’s a great dish anytime of year.
Black Bean Chili
I like to use black beans in this chili recipe. It makes a nice color contrast with the green chilis and red tomatoes. Plus it’s tasty and quick.
Black and Green Chili
The amount of seasonings for this recipe are starting points. Feel free to add more, or even less, or some. One thing I do emphasize is the tablespoon of cocoa powder (not instant hot chocolate!), which adds depth. Serve with rice or tortillas. If you're not a big eater, just have the chili and add a few raw vegetables to your meal.
- 1 can black beans, partially drained
- 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 cup diced green chilis, more to taste, either canned or fresh roasted, skin removed
- 2 TB neutral oil such as canola
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 TB cocoa powder
- 1-2 tsp lime juice
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1-2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp or more of ground chipotle
- 1 TB ground mild (rojo) chili (not chili powder)
- salt to taste
- Optional: 1/4 - 1/2 lb cooked chicken, from leftover chicken, or ground chicken
- Garnish: grated cheese, sour cream, minced cilantro
- Step 1 Heat the oil over moderate heat in a large sauce pan and saute the onions until transparent, stirring
- Step 2 Add the garlic and cook briefly, avoid browning
- Step 3 Add the tomatoes, chilis, beans, seasonings and cooked meat (if using) and stir well to combine everything.
- Step 4 Heat through and simmer for 15-20 minutes to blend the flavors.
- Step 5 Taste for seasonings and salt and adjust as necessary.
- Step 6 Garnish with grated cheese or sour cream
There are plenty of information sources about cooking with beans, canned or dried: internet, cookbooks, magazines. I’ll feature more recipes in coming weeks.