Beyond Bean Basics

Beans’ versatility and variety make it easy to cut back on meat, whatever your motivation. Beans provide the protein that every body needs, but with none of the cholesterol that meat supplies. For a home cook trying to improve the family diet, or a chef trying to enhance customer options, beans can inspire solutions.

Shift the balance of power. Rethink the old “center of the plate” concept, with meat as the meal’s focal point. Make it a smaller player in some dishes and give beans the starring role.

  • Old style: Grilled pork chop with white beans
  • New style: White bean “cassoulet” with pancetta and slow-roasted tomatoes

Think of meat as a seasoning. Use it to give depth to bean dishes, to add another layer of flavor — just as you use onions, garlic and herbs. Add a smoked turkey wing to a pot of navy beans, a ham bone to a cranberry bean and kale soup, or a single thick slice of bacon to a big, brothy pot of black beans with garlic and cumin.

Borrow ideas from traditional vegetarian cuisines. Look to cultures and countries where vegetarianism is a way of life to find techniques you can adapt. Prepare an Indian-style dal with pink beans, perfuming the pot with fresh green chiles, ginger, turmeric, cumin, black mustard seed and cilantro. To impart a signature Indian flavor, toast whole cumin seed and mustard seed in hot oil or ghee (clarified butter) and stir these aromatic seasonings in at the end.

Replace meat stock with bean broth. Cooked beans produce a rich and full-bodied broth that gives backbone to vegetarian soups. Always save the broth from cooking beans to enhance soups and vegetable stews. You can cook rice in bean broth, too. A rib-sticking Tuscan Bread and Bean Soup gets its robust character from beefy cranberry beans simmered with garlic and bay leaf. No meat required.

When savings deliver flavor, that’s a winner. Dry beans can lower your food costs if they replace higher-priced proteins like meat and fish. And if the beans taste great, where’s the sacrifice?

Adding beans to a main course will allow you to reduce the meat portion with no loss of perceived value. What’s more, beans shine in the company of the so-called “lesser cuts” — meats like pork ribs, belly, and ham hocks; lamb shoulder and shanks; and beef brisket, tongue and tripe. With the current craze for “nose-to-tail eating,” beans are in their element. Diners have never been more willing to try every part of the animal, from pig’s ears to oxtails. And that’s great news for beans.

Even in the seafood realm, beans pair best with less costly choices like mussels, clams, and canned tuna. With pricier items like fresh tuna, shrimp, octopus, and salt cod, beans can stretch your seafood dollar by adding heft to a seafood salad or stew without adding much cost.

If your kitchen repertoire is feeling predictable, it may be time to explore some new protein options. Let dry and canned beans energize your cooking by sparking your creativity. They introduce colors, textures, shapes, and flavors that boost plate appeal, and they play so well with others. As you explore the world of beans, you will find they lead you to other legumes and grains — their nutritious companions in classic dishes around the world.

Beans with beans: Tweak familiar bean dishes by adding unexpected twists. If you normally make chili with kidney beans, try a three-bean version, adding pink and pinto beans to the mix. Everybody makes hummus-style dips with chickpeas, but preparing it with Great Northern beans becomes a fresh idea. Three-bean salad? Make it with kidney beans, fresh green beans or wax beans and edamame. Pair cranberry beans with Great Northern beans in minestrone or pasta e fagioli. Dress cooked kidney, cranberry and Great Northern beans with vinaigrette and fold in poached shrimp or high-quality canned tuna. Spoon over butter lettuce for an appealing summer salad.

Beans with grains: Pairing beans with grains makes a complete protein, supplying all nine essential amino acids. That’s why Mexican cooks accompany pinto beans with tortillas; Indians serve legumes with rice; and Middle Eastern diners love beans with bulgur. The marriage of beans and grains isn’t just nutritionally sound— it’s ancient, delicious and enduring. For maximum nutritional impact, combine beans with whole grains, such as whole-wheat pasta or bread, wheat berries, barley, bulgur, corn, farro, kamut, quinoa and brown rice.

A few possibilities:

An image depicting the roasted salmon with quinoa and black bean salad
Roasted Salmon, Quinoa and Black Bean Salad
This salad presents a trio of ingredients with incredible health halos. Consumers associate salmon with heart health promoting omega-3. Quinoa, a popular ingredient in Peruvian kitchens, is increasing in popularity as consumers seek out more whole grains. And black beans provide fiber, protein, and low glycemic index carbohydrates that provide long-lasting energy. But enough about the nutrition benefits; this salad should be sold on flavor, with a dressing that bridges the richness of the salmon, the nuttiness of the quinoa, and the sweetness of the black beans. To download a Spanish translation of this recipe click here.
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White Bean Soup with Swiss Chard, Butternut Squash, and Farro
White Bean Soup with Swiss Chard, Butternut Squash, and Farro
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An image depicting the brown rice and kidney bean salad with roasted peppers, apples, and sherry vinaigrette
Brown Rice and Kidney Bean Salad with Roasted Peppers, Apples and Sherry Vinaigrette
This flavorful whole grain salad uses multiple varieties of beans and vegetables to add beautiful color to the dish. Serve this salad as a side dish or even inside a wrap as a lunch entree. Chef Samuel developed this recipe for a high school foodservice audience. To download a Spanish translation of this recipe click here.
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An image of an example for the quinoa black bean stuffed bell peppers
Black Bean and Quinoa Stuffed Bell Peppers
To download a Spanish translation of this recipe click here.
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An example of the Bruschetta white bean spread and swiss chard
Multigrain Bruschetta with White Bean Spread and Swiss Chard
Chef Lars Kronmark from The Culinary Institute of America prepares a bruschetta on multigrain bread topped with rosemary navy bean puree and garlicky Swiss chard. This is a quick, healthy and flavorful recipe great for any meal of the day!
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An image depicting the Pita Pocket with White Bean and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
Pita Pocket with White Bean and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus
With Americans increasingly seeking out vegetarian menu options, this vegetable-packed sandwich is sure to please. While everybody makes hummus with chick peas, this pita pocket is filled with a hummus that Chef Scott Samuel makes with white beans, roasted red peppers, cumin and cayenne.   To download a Spanish translation of this recipe click here.
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Ditch the doughnuts and start your engine in the morning with low-fat protein. The typical carbo-centric American breakfast (biscuits with butter, pancakes with syrup, cereal with milk, toast with jam) doesn’t provide enough protein power to fuel your day. No wonder so many of us are drooping before lunch.

Dry beans make it easy to pack protein into the start to the day. You can cook them in large batches on the weekend and reheat them all week. Or you can use canned beans, drained to minimize sodium (see below), for a running start.

Just a few ideas to get you brainstorming about beans for breakfast…

From Egypt: Ful mudammas, or beans cooked with onion and tomato, are a popular morning meal. Egyptians prepare ful with dry fava beans, but cranberry beans or pink beans will work too. They eat them whole, lightly mashed, or fully mashed, topped with olive oil, melted butter, a hard-boiled egg or a fried egg. According to an Arab saying, ful is “the rich man’s breakfast, the shopkeeper’s lunch, the poor man’s supper.”

From Lebanon: Ful again. Here it’s eaten for breakfast with feta cheese, cucumbers, black olives and pita. Make it a whole-wheat pita for good measure.

From Tunisia: Leb-lebi, a hearty breakfast bean stew, is seasoned with cumin and harissa. Tunisians use chick peas; Great Northern beans would take the seasonings well, too. Tunisians buy leb-lebi in the morning from small shops on the street and add a variety of garnishes — chopped tomato, chopped green peppers, croutons, cilantro or poached eggs — to taste.

Dry beans also make a smart choice for lunch. They are filling, fast and high fiber. Toss them in a salad. Puree them and use them in place of mayonnaise as a sandwich spread. Pack a bean dip in a brown-bag lunch with raw vegetables. Make a Pita Pocket with White Bean Hummus-Style Spread.