Unless you're a major Tex-Mex fan, you probably don't cook with beans very often. In fact, most of us fit in just one cup per week-far less than the three cups the USDA dietary guidelines tell us to eat. You may think you have good reason to avoid beans- they're bland and mushy, they give you gas, or you simply don't know how to prepare them-but once you see how healthy they are, you may reconsider. For just 100 calories per half cup, you get plenty of protein, fiber, iron, folate, potassium, and calcium- all nutrients that are crucial to every woman's well-being. With the right preparation techniques, beans can be tastier and more versatile than you ever imagined. Intrigued? Follow these four tips and you can start reaping the benefits of beans today.
Count on canned
They're just as nutritious as the ones you cook yourself, and as a bonus, the canning process neutralizes most of the indigestible starches in beans, so canned varieties aren't likely to cause gas or bloating. They do contain 350 to 500 milligrams of sodium per half cup, but if you drain and rinse these beans before using them, you'll reduce the sodium content by about 40 percent.
Consider beans a vegetable
Of course beans can be used as a source of protein or as a meat substitute, but they also count toward your five-a-day. Mix one cup of any variety with heaping amounts of chopped celery, scallions, bell peppers, and a little Italian dressing for a yummy dish that supplies about four vegetable servings. Or try my Dreamy White Beans as a side dish with beef or chicken.
Try them from scratch
True, cooking dried beans can take an hour or longer, but they simmer away unattended. Many dried varieties, such as earthy Italian borlotti beans and tender green flageolets, aren't usually available in a can. Plus, you can control the amount of salt you use (add it once the beans are tender).
Experiment with mix-ins
Try tossing pinto beans with cubes of roasted butternut squash, sautéed onions, cumin, garlic, and lime juice. Or add white beans to spaghetti and toss with olive oil, garlic, chopped olives, and grated cheese. Another fast option: Mince some red onions and red bell pepper, then combine with black beans, cubed mango, and your favorite salad dressing. Remember, canned or dried, beans take on the flavor of anything they're mixed with. The possibilities are endless!