How to Cook with Beans. A Healthly and Versitile Ingredient
Beans come in a range of varieties and are easy to prepare. When you cook with beans they can be added to a wide selection of recipes, from salads and stews to cakes and desserts and so can be used as part of most diets. Dried beans are a very economical food, though they do require some planning in advance and preparation before use. Many varieties of beans such as butter, haricot and kidney beans can be bought in tins and are ready for use.
Ten Benefits of Eating Beans
1) Choosing to cook with beans even once or twice a week can help to save money on your weekly food shop. Beans can be used as the main base of a meal, such as in a vegetarian chilli or added to meat and other ingredients to make them stretch further. For example: if you add beans to a meat chilli con carne you will need less meat to feed the same amount of people.
2) Beans are a good source of protein and so a healthy choice, especially for vegetarians and vegans. Beans supply around the same number of calories as the same weight of grain but also provide 2-3 times as much protein.
3) Beans have a low glycemic index and so are good at keeping blood sugar levels stable.
4) Beans are high in fibre. One serving can contain as much as half the recommended daily intake of fibre for adults.
5) Beans are high in complex carbohydrates which provide the body with slow release energy. They are also a good source of B vitamins, iron, copper, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium.
6) It is rare for people to be allergic to beans and so they are a good choice for people who suffer with food allergies and intolerances. They are naturally free of many common allergens such as gluten, wheat, egg, milk and nuts.
7) Eating less meat has been shown to have positive benefits for health and is beneficial to the environment.
8) Beans are low in cholesterol.
9) Beans can help regulate colon function and aid constipation and other bowel problems.
10) Beans are high in isoflavones. These compounds are similarly structured to estrogen and are also known as phytoestrogens. Many people believe that these have various health benefits for humans including easing the symptoms of menopause, preventing some forms of cancer, preventing heart disease and in improving bone health.
Varities of Bean
Although genetically beans are very similar, they come in a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colours. Due to their similarities beans are generally interchangeable in a recipe which adds even further to their versatility. Not liking a particular bean or having forgotten to buy them doesn’t have to stop you making your favourite recipes and is unlikely to have a great effect on its success. In some cases changing the type of bean used may change the taste of a finished recipe. The texture may also be a little different, especially when swapping a larger bean such as broad or butter beans for smaller varieties. These changes may be welcome or you may prefer the original, depending on your tastes.
It is often the case that a certain type of bean is used in a recipe: for example kidney beans are generally used in chilli con carne but do not be afraid to try other types instead. Cooking with beans allows for lots of experimentation and makes adapting recipes to suit your tastes easy. Personally I prefer haricot beans in a chilli and my mum always used a tin of baked beans in hers.
Some variety of beans are available to buy fresh although there availability and price may be affected by the season. Types such as runner and French beans can be grown fairly easily at home in the garden and even in tubs and other containers. These will supply you and your family with delicious fresh beans for very little financial outlay, time or effort. Some supermarkets sell bags of frozen beans such as broad or edamame beans. You may also find these in Asian food shops.
Green beans – These quick to cook, round and thin beans are used in many countries. They are available fresh in most supermarkets. These beans can also be bought frozen and are sometimes called haricots verts.
Runner beans – Long flat beans that grow on climbing plants that also have pretty red or white flowers. The pod and red/black patterned beans are consumed, normally by slicing thinly and boiling or steaming. They are commonly grown up a tee pee shaped frame constructed of bamboo canes. Stringless varieties are now sold but in the case of others, the tough ‘string’ that runs along each side of the pod needs to be removed before cooking. This can be done with a vegetable peeler or a special bean tool which also slices the beans ready to cook.
Soya beans – Soya beans are consumed in many forms such as milk, tofu and the textured vegetable protein that is used in some meat substitutes. The beans can also be eaten fresh or cooked and are also known as edamame beans. Soya beans can be bought frozen and store well this way.
Broad beans – These beans are larger than most varieties but only need a short cooking time. Broad beans are at their best when they are young and very fresh. Like runner beans, broad beans can be grown quite successfully at home and take up little space.
Flageolet beans – These beans feature greatly in French cooking and are the pods of under ripe haricot beans. They are a small oval bean that has a mild flavour.
Butter beans – Butter beans are a larger bean. They can be easily overcooked and then become overly soft and unpleasant. They are often used in stews or mashed/pureed to use in dips or as a vegetable accompaniment.
Cannellini beans – Also known as great northern beans. These white, soft, oval beans have a soft texture and are a common tinned variety.
Black-eyed peas – A small bean that has a black mark in its centre. Black-eyed peas are common in southern America cooking.
Adzuki bean – Small red beans that originated in China and Japan. They are often used to make a sweet paste that is then used in cooking and making confectionary and sweet bread products.
Kidney beans – Kidney beans have a stronger flavour and firmer texture than many other beans. They hold their shape well when cooked and are common in chill con carne.
Cook with Beans
Many varieties of beans are available in dried and tinned forms. Although dried beans are more economical they require a soaking time of at least eight hours before use. Because of this you need plan ahead in your cooking and so it may be the case that tinned beans are not only more convenient but can also help save waste if you then cannot cook or have changed your mind about cooking the beans.
Tinned beans can be a useful standby item to have in the cupboard as they will remain fresh for a long time. They can be used a base for quick and health meals when you are short on time or do not feel up to cooking. Tinned beans can be used in cooked recipes, can be added to salads or used to make dips. One way to benefit from the convenience of tinned beans but save money is to prepare and cook dried bean in batches and then freeze in appropriate portions for use. The beans can be added to cooked dishes frozen or defrosted for other uses.
How to Cook Dried Beans
Soaking dried beans is necessary in order to speed up the cooking process. Soaking the beans rehydrates them before use meaning that they take less time to cook and require less liquid to be added to recipes. Secondly, soaking beans helps to remove some of the more indigestible elements of the bean and reduce the flatulence many people experience when eating them. It is worth noting that this effect does tend to lessen the more your body becomes accustomed to eating beans.
To soak beans simply place the required amount into a sieve and rinse well. Pick out any damage beans and pour the remaining beans into a bowl. Cover the beans with water and allow to stand for 8-12 hours. After this time drain and rinse the beans. Do not use the soaking liquid for cooking the beans or you will add the flatulence inducing carbohydrates back into your meal. Once the soaking has been completed the beans can be cooked and used. Kidney beans should always be carefully soaked and never eaten raw as they contain a toxin that can cause symptoms of food poisoning when not properly cooked.
Note – If a recipe asks for tinned beans and you only have dried: as a rough guide dried beans will double once they have been soaked so you need half the weight in dried beans. On the other hand if your recipe asks for dried beans and you have tinned then use double the amount. It is important to also take note of the drained weight of any tins you buy rather than the total weight. This total also includes the fluid that surrounds the beans and not just the weight of the beans themselves.
Tinned Beans and Aquafaba
When using tinned beans they will need to be drained first. The liquid present around the beans is known as aquafaba and can also be used as a cooking ingredient. Aquafaba is an excellent substitute for eggs and can be used in baking and even to make an egg free meringue. This can be very useful for vegan cooking or for anyone that has an allergy to eggs. 3tbsp of aquafaba is roughly equal to one egg and this useful liquid can be kept in the fridge for several days or frozen to use later. I freeze in tsbp portions for easy use later.
Beans store well and can be dried or frozen successfully at home. Beans can be stored on their own, in mixes or as part of cooked meals. Many meals featuring beans such as soups, burritos, stews and casseroles can be batch cooked and frozen to eat at a later date. These could be used as lunches for work or as healthy pre-prepared dinners for busy nights that stop you reaching for a take away menu or grabbing food on the run. Fresh beans store well covered in the refrigerator for several days and can be frozen for up to six months.
1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
2. SummerTomato [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
3. Christine Johnstone [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
4. mdid (Flickr) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
5. “Blackbeanstew” by Badagnani – Own work, [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons