The Absent American Food: BEANS

Dear Reader,

If your family was anything like my own growing up, you ate pretty much the same 5 to 10 rotating meals your entire childhood.  Whatever made an appearance on my dinner table was an old friend.  And, my family was perfectly Southern, so some of it was fried, some of it was covered in gravy and the rest of it was covered in butter.

Beans are a pretty absent food in the American diet.  I can’t remember the last time I asked someone what they had for dinner last night and their reply was beans.

Why is that?

For those of you that live in the Western and Southwestern parts of the USA, you are eating more beans than most.

According to The Bean Institute (yes, there is a Bean Institute!), Americans consume, on average, about 6.5 pounds of dry beans yearly which is equal to roughly 2 ounces a week.

We can do better than that!

One half cup of cooked dry beans contains approximately 115 calories and provides 8 grams of protein.  Although they are also considered carbohydrate, the very good kind of carb – complex, unlike the type you’re taught to avoid (like bread, for instance), they are actually good for the Diabetic Diet.  They are rich in fiber, low in fat, full of minerals and vitamins.  And, the most shocking of all, white beans are high in iron, almost twice that of black beans!  Check out the nutritional data for one cup of navy beans found here.

North Dakota produces most of the beans grown in the USA.  American farmers grow more pinto beans than any other; it makes sense, the american diet contains more pinto beans than any other bean.

So, in my plight to push the bean, I am sharing some fool-proof recipes that are delicious and extremely easy, don’t be discouraged by the soaking overnight.  I pull out a bag of beans and leave them on my counter so I will remember to soak them when I’m cleaning up after dinner.  I encourage you to try my recommendation below, especially if you have never cooked a bean before.  I promise, it will not be your last.

BEAN 101:

~ Buy your beans dry and organic if at all possible.  If you must use canned beans, rinse and drain them, it will remove about 40% of the sodium, which is the main reason I skip canned beans.

~ Soaking beans overnight is crucial.  It re-hydrates the bean and also removes the sugars that cause the little problem made well-known by a song you’ve probably heard as a child.  Don’t be tempted to use the soaking liquid to cook them in, trust me on this.

~ Never add salt to cooking beans, only salt at the end.

~ For the perfect bean, invest in a crock pot that has a timed cook-time and will turn itself off when the time is up.

~ Black beans take a little longer than white beans to cook.

~ One standard supermarket bag of beans is equal to 1-pound (or 2-cups) dry and 5-6 cups cooked.

~ No matter what your Southern Mamma taught you, like mine, you do not need a fat back!  Or any other piece of the pig.  Beans are vegetarian and can stay that way.  It actually does not help the taste, in my opinion.  Plus, it adds a ton of unnecessary fat.

~ The flavoring options are not necessary for beans.  It will enhance the flavor if you plan to eat them as a main course, as I do.  If you are making them to be used in something else, like a burrito, you don’t even need to flavor them and can skip that step all together, if you wish.

Basic cooking instruction for ANY dried bean:

1-bag of beans, any color or type (2-cups if you prefer buying bulk) – for beginner, try white navy beans, they are delicious and one of my favorites (small white bean)

2-boxes of organic, low sodium chicken broth – I buy this in large quantities when I find it on sale

2-cups cold water

Various add ins: 1-cup onion, 1-chopped jalapeño, 2-whole garlic cloves, 1-cup chopped various peppers, chopped vegetables like carrots and celery

Various toppings: low-fat cheddar cheese, 0% fat Fage Greek Yogurt, chopped cilantro, chopped raw onions, ketchup, chopped tomatoes, whatever you can think of

The night before you want to serve your beans, place them into the crock pot or pot you will use to cook them in.  Cover them with about 8-10 cups of water, or fill to the top of the pot with water – do not salt.  Soak overnight.  In the morning, drain the beans into a colander, rinse them well and rinse out the pot.  Return the beans to the pot.

Add 2-boxes of chicken broth to the pot.  Add another 2-cups of cold water.  Add in your flavoring ingredients, such as my favorite combinations:

~ chopped onions, jalapeños or green chilies and 2 whole garlic cloves, peeled

~ chopped onions, chopped red, yellow and green peppers and 2 whole garlic cloves, peeled

Set your crock pot to cook on low for 6-8 hours ( you can do this before work, which might be the best part!) and walk away.  You can also do it the old fashioned way and simmer them on the stove most of the day on a very low simmer, stirring sometimes until they reach desired consistency.

A lot of beans will begin to split open when they are well done.  If you like them a little less cooked, by all means.  Typically, the crock pot set on 8-hours, is what I use and they will split open.  I like the done-ness of the bean that way, but you can experiment with the cooking time.

When you’re satisfied with the done-ness, salt to taste (or not) and if you see those garlic cloves, fish them out.  A note: I do not like unsalted beans and I realize some of you may not be able to use salt.

To serve:

Place beans in a bowl, with the juice they were cooked in, just like a soup.  Top with your favorite toppings; don’t limit yourself to what you see here, your imagination is the limit.

My favorite thing to do with a navy bean is to add 1-tablespoon of ketchup to the bowl and mix it all up.  I grew up eating them this way, most likely my mother’s ploy to get me to eat the bean, and it’s still my favorite.

The grown up version of this is to top a bowl of navy beans with chopped tomatoes and onions.  But, hey, I still love the ketchup.

My favorite way to top a bowl of black beans is one dollop of no fat greek yogurt, a tablespoon of chopped onions, and a little bit of cilantro.  YUM!

OK, Reader.  You are well equipped to cook the perfect bean tonight for dinner.  I bet it will be the most inexpensive meal you make this week and very well, may be the most memorable.

I would love to hear about it if you are a beginner.  Come back, tell me, how did you like it?


6 thoughts on “The Absent American Food: BEANS

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  5. Great ideas! We do this with dried pinto beans and they are SO much better than the canned stuff…a little melted cheese on top and my kids will eat them by the bowl!

    • I was shocked when I read the American ate more pinto than any other type of bean, mostly because I don’t make them very often. I will have to try them out, since my experience has been with the canned or refried variety, which I did not love. I’ll have to see what everyone loves about them!

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