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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 A blogger asked the question,

How can you shop and cook for one on a budget? 

Here are some cost effective tips for the single person:

Avoid recipes that have rare ingredients you won’t use often. It is, of course, easy to cut a recipe in half or in quarters to serve just yourself. But if the recipe calls for a bunch of an expensive ingredient that you can’t buy less of, you may waste it. If, for example, a recipe calls for several different fresh herbs, just buy one that you love and use more of it.  Here are some healthy recipes for one or two http://www.eatingwell.com/recipes/collections/healthy_cooking_two_recipes.html

 

Shop in bulk bins section. This allows you to buy a tiny scoop of nuts or a little bit of a few different grains. You get fresher ingredients that you can use up on a single meal, and you save money.

 

Consider the egg. Eggs are a good protein source for a single meal. A fried/scrambled egg over some sautéed vegetables such as spinach   on top of whole grain noodles or toast makes a quick dinner.  Boil one or two eggs ahead of time and they make great sandwiches or quick grab and go breakfast item.

Purchase some fresh vegetables or whole fruits but frozen can be cheaper. Purchase them in the bag, rather than the single box.  This way you can take out what you need, retie, put back in the freezer and have no waste.

Buy a little bird such as Cornish hen or a chicken breast.  Try roasting in a pie plate or a small pan with a potato, carrot, turnip, or other vegetable cut up underneath. It’s like a downsized roasted chicken.

Use greens in more than one way. Greens are the first thing to go in the refrigerator, and yet you can’t really buy half a bunch. So if you have a bag of spinach makes a salad and also you can add it to your main dish.  Try laying some in a foil packet add one piece of fish and bake or stir it into soup.

Make soup or pasta. Not a groundbreaking idea. But both are great warmed up (or even cold, in the case of pasta), so no harm in having extra that can be frozen in small portions.   On a day you’re not up for cooking, just defrost and you have quick meal.

For pasta, try to buy the whole grain type –  that way you are getting fiber and more nutrients for your buck.  If adding sauce, purchase the small 4 oz tomato sauce cans so you will have less waste.

If you purchase canned soup, try the low-sodium varieties to keep salt consumption in control.  Soups can be a good base for a  hardy meal.  Add more frozen vegetables, or cut up leftover meat or cooked pasta to the soup. 

Check for the individually frozen fish or meats, which allow you to one and put the others, back in the freezer.  Pair with frozen vegetable and sweet potato and you have a meal that could all be cook in the microwave.

Don’t forget beans, they are a quick no –meat meal packed with protein and fiber.  You can use kidney beans with chili powder and tomato sauce for easy chili to warm you up on cold evenings. Or look for vegetarian chili already in the can. Try lentil soups and rice and bean combination found in the in the instant rice section.

If you open a can of beans and don’t not use them all, try adding the beans to a wrap sandwich.  For example, black beans make a great addition to a grilled chicken wrap.  

Try the whole grain instant rice packets these often come in individual sizes that microwave in a short time, some as quick as 90 seconds.   If you do prepare rice, use the extras in soups, or even make a great dessert, rice pudding. http://www.recipezaar.com/Rice-Pudding-For-One-12687

Plan your menus. Just because you’re eating for one or two, don’t think you shouldn’t plan ahead.   Planning what you will have for meals every three days or weekly (depending on your storage capacity) will save you time and money.  Think of meal combination in which you “cook once and serve twice.”  

 

Sample menu options:  

Monday – Prepare Cornish hen for dinner.  

Tuesday use some leftovers for sandwich for lunch

Wednesday have something different such as vegetarian chili…

…and on Thursday add the remaining chicken to pasta with vegetables or to a can of vegetable soup.  

Friday, try individual homemade pizza (see comment from Gabby)