Save Money, Your Health and the Planet by Jill Nussinow, MS, RD, The Veggie Queen™

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I have a premise that if you can boil water, you can probably eat well, especially if you go back to basics. Starting with whole, unadulterated, foods such as beans, grains, nuts, seeds, mushrooms, vegetables and fruit which come from the earth’s abundance provides a good jumping off point for good eating.

Beans and other Luscious Legumes

Beans, peas and lentils have leapt from peasant fare to upscale, found at expensive restaurants and gourmet stores. The range of available legumes, which is what they are called, is amazing. You’ll find tiny black Beluga lentils, just a fraction of an inch round, to Christmas lima or scarlet runner beans, at a full inch or two long. Each legume looks different and can be used in a myriad of recipes from appetizers through dessert.

I praise beans for their versatility and variety but their taste holds the allure. If you’ve tried limas but didn’t like them (most people say they don’t), then try garbanzo, also known as chickpea, or kidney beans, or green (edamame), yellow or black soybeans. The range of colors seen in beans is astounding.

Beans that have been in existence for a long time are called “heirloom” beans. While grown from “old” stock, they are usually more recently harvested. Old beans will not completely cook through and are often tough. Buying beans at a natural food store rather than in a bag at the supermarket will usually yield a newer crop of beans.

Just a sampling of other terrific tasting heirlooms includes Anasazi, borlotti, flageolet, Jacob’s cattle, and yellow eye Stueben. There are so many legume varieties to explore that you could try one a week for a year or more.

Eating beans often seems to help your body adjust to beans and decreases gas. If that doesn’t work, you can try a product called Beano. Or try adding kombu seaweed when cooking beans. Do not add salt or other acidic foods such as tomatoes or molasses during cooking or else your beans may be tough. To boost flavor, add herbs, spices or garlic to your bean pot.

There’s an old saying, “Beans, beans, good for your heart…” Protect your heart today in a tasty way.

Cooking Beans

Some people have never seen beans except in a can. Bush’s Beans has gone so far as to call beans a vegetable and set up a website http://vegetableswithmore.com . The easiest way to buy and keep beans is in their dried state. They are an incredible source of inexpensive protein, and can be made easily with just a bit of advanced planning.

To get beans from the dried to cooked state, they need water. You can either soak the beans overnight in a lot of water and then drain them, or you can do what’s called a quick-soak. You put 3 inches of water over the beans in a pot on the stove. Bring to a boil for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, and let sit for 1 hour, drain them. In either case, you are ready to cook the beans. 1 cup of dry beans will yield about  2 ½ cups cooked beans, so plan accordingly.

You can cook on top of the stove by putting the beans in a pot with water to cover them. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the beans are the way that you like them. Most beans will take 45 minutes to an hour to cook this way. Or you can use a slow cooker and cook the beans all day on low in the cooker, with any aromatic vegetables such as onions, garlic, and spices but no salt. Adding salt when cooking beans will make them tough.

My favorite way to cook beans is in the pressure cooker because it’s way faster and easier. I know that some of you consider pressure cookers scary but the new ones with the little button that pops up instead of the jiggler are safe and quiet. The beans that take 45 minutes on the stove top usually take 4 to 6 minutes at pressure plus the time it takes for the pressure to come down. If you let the pressure out quickly your beans, not the pressure cooker, are likely to explode which is fine for dishes such as dips and spreads but not good for recipes that your beans need to look good.

You can flavor beans while cooking them. Some wonderful non-meat ways are with herbs such as marjoram, thyme, rosemary, sage, bay leaves, and with spices such as paprika, pimenton (smoked paprika), cumin, ground or seeds, and, of course, with leeks, garlic, onions, shallots, ginger or your favorite aromatic vegetables.

Different beans work best with different flavorings, so you may want to experiment or look for recipes that will give you an idea of good flavor matches.

Here are a few important tips for cooking beans:

Do NOT add salt or acid foods such as tomatoes or molasses when cooking beans.

Freeze what you don’t use for later use.

Use beans for soups, salads or main dishes. They can even be used as filler when making some cakes and quick breads.

 If you’d like to learn more about beans look at the Luscious Legumes chapter which I co-wrote for Cooking Healthy Across America, by the American Dietetic Association, Wiley, 2005.

Jill Nussinow is a Registered Dietitian and cooking teacher who is the author of The Veggie Queen: Vegetables Get the Royal Treatment cookbook and the DVD Pressure Cooking: A Fresh Look, Delicious Dishes in Minutes. You can find more information at http://www.theveggiequeen.com or http://www.pressurecookingonline.com.

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