Beans, Beans...Good for the Heart

blackbeans good for the heart


by Christine van Bloem

You know the rest of that rhyme, don't you? This month we're moving on to better and beanier things, and working hard to open your world to the benefits of incorporating more beans into your family's diet.

Beans get a bad rap, with most folks thinking the little guys hang around just to make you gassy. Au contraire!

Beans are an important part of a healthy, balanced diet for all ages. A nutrient-rich food, beans are high in protein, complex carbohydrates, fiber, antioxidants, and important vitamins and minerals, such as folate and iron. Not only are beans low in fat, their lean protein helps to maintain muscle while the complex carbohydrates supply a sustained energy source to keep you moving, something every mother can always use.

Beans of all types are also a great source of soluble fiber, which keeps things moving along in your digestive system.

Canned vs. Dried Beans

If you're determined to incorporate beans into your diet (yay you!), which beans do you use: dried or canned?

Quite simply, dried beans are cheap. Really cheap. As in totally affordable and easy to find, whether you're in your huge mega-mart of a grocery store or the local food co-op. Dried beans retain more of their nutritional value, and also won't have any additives canned beans may include (typically calcium chloride, used as a firming agent to keep canned beans from getting mushy, and occasionally sugar, which, well, just yuck).

Canned beans are also pretty darn cheap, though not quite as inexpensive as the dried. You can still easily pick up a can of black beans for under a buck, though a bag of dried black beans has a much higher yield and often costs a bit less.

But being frugal on your beans also comes with a price—in the form of time and effort—because dried beans need to be picked through and soaked, typically overnight. Soaking removes some of the carbohydrates our bodies have trouble digesting, thus helping to reduce the gassiness issue. You're going to have to cook those guys too, which isn't difficult, but it does add a step in the process.

Cooking Dried Beans

To cook dried beans, pour them into a bowl or colander and pick through to remove any stones or dirt. Don't skip this step, or you could have an unpleasant uber-crunchy surprise when you're noshing on your beans later. Once picked through, give them a good rinse in cold water, and then cover with cold water and let soak at room temperature overnight (6-8 hours). In the morning, discard the soaking liquid, and pour your beans into a big pot; cover with two inches of unsalted water. Adding salt in the first cooking prohibits water absorption, so wait until you're cooking your actual dish before getting your salt on.

Bring the pot to a boil. This is going to cause a scummy foam to rise to the top of the pot, which is exactly what we're looking for here. Just skim it off and discard. Reduce your heat, cover your pot of beany goodness, and let it gently simmer. Cook until tender, anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes generally, depending on the variety of bean. (You may need to add a bit of water during cooking, so be sure to check the water level every once and a while.) Don't try to rush your process; we want a nice, slow cooking time to get the most from our beans. You'll know your beans are ready when they're tender but not mushy. If your beans have burst, you've gone too far.

Once you've done the picking, rinsing, soaking, and cooking, you're ready to move forward with any recipes. Want to skip all this mumbo jumbo? No worries, canned beans are awesome too! Just purchase what you need and be sure to drain off the bean juice in the can and rinse your beans really, really well, or else that gassiness issue may make a grand appearance at just the wrong time. But hey—there's always Beano.

Christine van Bloem is the owner and instructor extraordinaire at The Kitchen Studio Cooking School in Frederick.