We often use 'beans and rice' as a shorthand way of saying 'dinners based on legumes plus grains' (at least, I often use it this way). But it seems that many Americans don't know what bean-based dinners are, or even can be. 'What kind of beans? What grains? What are you talking about?' Think ethnic: bean burritos, Indian dals and vegetable curries served with rice, Italian pasta fagioli, chili plus cornbread, Middle Eastern falafel in a pita, Louisiana red beans and rice, Cuban black beans and rice - the combinations are almost endless. Even the British 'beans on toast' qualifies, and is good nutrition - if the toast is made from whole-grain bread.
Legumes (beans and peas) together with whole grains, or with dairy products, make a complete protein: they have all the amino acids that humans need. The grains and beans need not be eaten at the same meal; just in the same day. But most ethnic bean recipes do call for a grain: either they are served on rice or in a pita, or with tortillas, or with corn muffins, or with another grain.
General Advice, Tips and Equivalencies
First of all, I recommend that beginners start with canned beans. Yes, dried, home-cooked beans are cheaper. Yes, home-cooked beans have a nicer texture and taste. However, canned beans are a very good substitute and you can cook with them on the spur of the moment. Dried beans require planning ahead (either the night before or at least an hour or so before) so that you can soak them, and they take a considerable time to cook. You can vastly improve the taste of canned beans - and get rid of much of their excess sodium - by emptying them into a colander in your sink, draining them and rinsing them very well with cool water. Then let them drain briefly again before use. I recommend that you always do this (even if you must add liquid back to a recipe). My favorite brand of canned beans is 'Goya' (look in the Hispanic or Mexican foods section of your supermarket). Our supermarket's store-brand beans are good too, and sometimes I can buy a 16-oz can of store-brand beans for 50 cents: we stock up then.
After you've found some bean-based dinner recipes that you enjoy, then probably you'll want to start cooking dried beans at home. When you do, I recommend using a pressure cooker - you can save lots of time and energy (and energy equals dollars) if you use a pressure cooker. Be sure you get a pressure cooker that is recommended for cooking beans. (Read the manual.) I recommend a stainless steel, 'second generation' pressure cooker (no jiggle top). I have two, they're great. For lots of information on pressure cookers, see: http://www.missvickie.com. Pressure-cookers cut bean cooking time down by approximately 75% (my estimate) and certainly by considerably more than 50%. By the way, I highly recommend Lorna Sass's book, Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure, to anyone - vegetarian or otherwise - who is interested in pressure cooking. She has clear directions for cooking every imaginable type of bean and grain, plus terrific recipes.
Dealing with a Potentially Embarrassing Aspect of Beans
Beans, like cabbage, can cause gas problems for many people. If you eat them regularly, your body will adapt and this will cease to be a problem. In the mean time, many people find Beano to be very helpful. See: http://www.beanogas.com/. Beano can be bought at natural food stores and drugstores. I've seen it in some supermarkets too.
Feel Free to Substitute
While all the various types of beans are different - have a different taste and texture - please feel free to substitute one kind of bean for another in recipes. If you don't have pigeon peas, use black-eyed peas. If you don't have either, use black beans. If you're out of kidney beans, use pinto beans. And so on.
On the Joy of Not-Measuring and Other Tips
I measure when I cook desserts and baked goods, but nothing else. I'd recommend measuring the first time you make a dinner-type recipe, and then ... freedom is not-measuring. Give it a try: you'll thank me if you can get used to not-measuring. Lots of little cups and spoons that you don't need to get out, use, wash, dry, and return to their place!
When you rely on beans-and-grain dinners, you will find that the use of herbs and spices is very valuable. And just how fresh those herbs and spices are (or aren't!) is important. I keep my main supply of spices and herbs in the freezer, and I keep a small supply conveniently at hand in the kitchen. We grow some of our herbs, but aren't able to grow them all, so I buy my other herbs and spices online, from Penzey's (http://www.penzeys.com), and this makes a difference. Penzey's herbs and spices are as fresh as they come. When you get your spices and herbs fresh in the first place, and keep them frozen, your bean-based dinners are going to have lots of good flavor. We like our food fairly highly seasoned: I can tell you that I use a lot more herbs and spices than called for in most recipes: a whole lot more, in many cases. But be a little bit careful here. You can always add more chili powder, for example, but you cannot remove it once it's in the dish. Taste and taste again as you cook.
I do not cook with salt, not ever. (We add it at the table if we want it.) I use tamari instead. Tamari is a superior kind of soy sauce, available in natural food stores and many supermarkets. To me, it has less of a salty (and chemical-ish) taste and more depth of flavor than regular soy sauce. If you don't have tamari, you can use regular soy sauce or you can add salt to the recipe. (If you do cook with salt, of course feel free to add it. But tamari is salty, so if you use tamari, please taste before adding salt too.)
Equivalencies - Canned to Home-Cooked Beans
Equivalencies - Canned to Home-Cooked Beans
14 -16 oz can = 1.5 cups cooked beans
Dry Bean Yields When Cooked
1 cup dry beans (most kinds) = 2.25 to 2.5 cups cooked beans
Lean Bean Cuisine, by Jay Solomon. Many great recipes. With this book and some beans, you'll never be at a loss for something to make for dinner.
Recipes to Get You Started
Indian Beans and Rice Dinner
This is one of my favorite bean dinners. I make no claims as to its authenticity; I just know it's very good food. If I couldn't find pigeon peas (also called 'gandules' in Spanish), I would use all black-eyed peas. If I couldn't find them, I'd use black beans. I serve this with some plain yogurt on top, or with a raita (Indian-style yogurt salad) on the side. Yum. :)
Serving Size : 6
Saute onion, garlic, ginger root in oil. Add pepper and spices. Saute a bit longer until the peppers and onions are softened and cooiked. Add tomatoes and black-eyed peas and pigeon peas, plus a little water. Add raisins.
Simmer for about 10 minutes, uncovered.
Remove from heat and add lemon juice.
Garnish with cilantro leaves.
Serve over brown rice, with some plain yogurt on top, or with a raita on the side.
Black Bean Soup
Serving Size: 6
In a small bowl, cover the sun dried tomatoes with the boiling water, set aside.
In the soup pot, saute onion, garlic and pepper in a little oil until onions are transparent, stirring frequently. Add the cumin, 1/3 cup water, and canned tomatoes (chop the tomatoes first if whole) and their juice. Cover, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 5-10 minutes.
Add beans, the cup of water, and the orange juice, and continue to simmer about 15 minutes.
Drain and chop the sun-dried tomatoes, add them to the soup, cook an additional five minutes.
Stir in cilantro, and remove from heat.
Puree half the soup in a blender or food processor (or use one of the hand held 'stick' blenders, which is much easier).
Serve with corn muffins.
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