Besides being delicious and accepting of just about any flavoring, virtually all types of beans are nutrient powerhouses—rich in protein, folic acid, magnesium and protective phytochemicals. Most beans are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, and the carbohydrates they contain are slowly digested, with a gentler effect on blood-sugar levels. That makes beans especially filling and satisfying, even though they’re fairly low in calories—about 100 to 125 calories per half-cup serving. Hearty, protein-packed and toothsome, beans closely match meat’s nutrition and flavor profile, without the accompanying dose of saturated fat.
When you use canned beans in a recipe, be sure to rinse them first in a colander under cold running water, as their canning liquid often contains a fair amount of sodium. Canned beans are super-convenient and healthy, but if you have time, cooking your own dried beans may help save money and reduce sodium. You can freeze any you don’t use and pull them out the next time your salad needs a little extra boost. Here are some tips for soaking and cooking dried beans:
The best way to cook most types of dried beans is to soak them first, to shorten their cooking time. (Lentils and split peas do not need to be soaked, as they cook quickly.) For the best results, use the overnight soaking method; if you’re in a hurry and don’t mind risking a few burst bean skins, use the quick-soak method.
Overnight Soak: Rinse and pick over the beans, then place them in a large bowl with enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Let the beans soak for at least 8 hours or overnight. (For longer soaking, or in warm weather, place the bowl of beans in the refrigerator.) Drain.
Quick Soak: Rinse and pick over the beans, then place them in a large pot with enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 1 hour; drain.
Conventional Method: Place the drained, soaked beans in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover them by 2 inches (about 2 quarts of water for 1 pound of beans). Bring to a boil, skimming off any debris that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender, 20 minutes to 3 hours (cooking time will vary with the type and age of bean). Add salt to taste.
Slow-Cooker Method: Place the drained, soaked beans in a slow cooker and pour in 5 cups boiling water. Cover and cook on High until tender, 2 to 3 1/2 hours. Add salt to taste, and cook 15 minutes more.
• One pound of dried beans (about 2 cups) will yield 5 to 6 cups cooked beans.
• One 19-ounce can yields about 2 cups cooked beans; a 15-ounce can, about 1 1/2 cups.