With the economy still suffering, we continue our search for low-cost but nutritious ways to feed ourselves and our families. One of the cheapest and most nutritious foods that we often overlook is the dried bean. 

Dried beans come in a wide range of colors, shape and subtly different flavors.  They are staples in many cultures’ foods and are increasingly used in creative ways in American recipes.  Some of the most popular types are garbanzo beans (also known as chick peas), black beans, red or white kidney beans, pinto beans, and soybeans.

The benefits of dried beans include:

·         While canned beans are relatively cheap, dried beans are even less expensive, and they do not contain the sodium often found in canned products. 

·         Dried beans are often sold in bulk, even in small grocery stores, and have a very long shelf life if stored correctly.  

·         Dried beans are a great source of fiber, folate, protein and antioxidants.  One cup of cooked beans contains almost half the recommended fiber for a whole day! 

The following are some useful tips for storing, preparing, and cooking dried beans.

Storing:

Dried beans should be stored at room temperature in air-tight containers.  Do not keep dry beans in the refrigerator.  If stored incorrectly, the beans may absorb water and spoil before you have a chance to use them.  You can reclose the package they came in with a twist-tie, but this method will not keep them as fresh.

Preparing:

Dried beans expand in volume when cooked.  Before you begin, figure out the quantity you’ll need to get the right amount of cooked beans for your favorite recipe:

·         1/3 cup dry beans equals 1 cup cooked beans

·         1/2 cup dry beans equals 1 1/2 cups cooked beans

·         2/3 cup dry beans equals 2 cup cooked beans

·         1 cup dry beans equals 3 cups cooked beans

·         2 cups (1 pound) dry beans equals 6 cups cooked beans

The first step in preparing dry beans is to sort through the batch, looking for small pebbles and other impurities.  (Dry beans can’t be rinsed to get rid of these items during processing because they would absorb water and begin to spoil.) After sorting, the next two steps to preparing beans involve soaking and cooking.  

While you don’t have to soak beans before cooking, it’s a good idea for two reasons.  It shortens the cooking time and it begins the breakdown of starches that cause gas.  Make sure you discard the soak water in order to remove the gas-forming byproducts and any impurities.  Make sure beans are completely covered with room-temperature water (2 to 3 times their dry volume).  Do not use hot water because it could cause the beans to sour.  Using cold water will slow rehydration and increase cooking time.  Allow beans to soak for 8 -10 hours to soften, but no longer because the beans may begin to ferment.  This affects their flavor and could cause gastro-intestinal upset. 

Beans can also be “quick-soaked”, which rehydrates them in about an hour.  Bring the beans and soak water to a boil for two minutes.  Remove the beans from the heat and cover the pot.  Let the beans for rest for 1 hour.  At the end of the hour, discard the soak water and cook the beans.

Cooking:

The best cookware for beans is a heavy metal pot or saucepan. Stainless steel, cast aluminum, or cast iron are all excellent.  Bring the beans to a boil, and cover  and lower the heat and simmer for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the beans are tender. (Check your package of beans, as cooking times vary for different varieties. But also check the beans occasionally, because sometimes the beans will cook more quickly than the package says.)  Simmer instead of boil, because boiling can cause the beans to break apart and the skins to separate. Beans are done when they can be easily mashed between two fingers or with a fork.

After cooking, add the beans to your favorite recipe!  Beans taste better if cooked a day ahead, but they should be refrigerated to avoid becoming sour. When cooked, they can be frozen. Store cooked beans for up to four days in your refrigerator.

Recipes:

Here is a fun and delicious salad to try with your family.  With the weather getting warmer, you can bring it to the first barbeque of the season!  The recipe is courtesy of the California Dry Bean Board. 

“Chick-Chick” Salad

3/4       cup water
1/2       teaspoon salt
1/2       teaspoon curry powder
2/3       cup couscous
1          cup cubed cooked chicken breast (about 1/2 pound, boneless, skinless)
1-1/2   cups cooked* garbanzo beans (chick peas), drained
1/2       cup chopped red cabbage
1/4       cup sliced green onions
1/4       cup thinly sliced celery
1          teaspoon grated orange rind
1/4       cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2          teaspoons olive oil
1/4       teaspoon pepper

*1/2 cup dry makes 1-1/2 cups cooked.
In a medium saucepan, bring water, salt and curry powder to a boil; stir in couscous. Remove from heat; let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Add chicken, garbanzos, cabbage, onions and celery.

Combine orange rind and next 3 ingredients in a small bowl; stir with a wire whisk until blended. Add to couscous mixture; toss well. Serve immediately or chill. Makes 4 cups. Serves 4.

Nutritional Information per Serving:
Calories 309, Protein 20 g, Carbohydrates 45 g, Fat 5 g, Calories from fat 16%, Cholesterol 26 g, Fiber 5 g, Folate 134 mcg, Sodium 331 mg

You can find many more recipes on their website:  http://www.calbeans.com/recipes.html

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