Use your Bean

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Boost the flavor and nutrition of your favorite dishes with nature's greatest standby

It's hard to imagine a more perfect food than beans. Fiber? One cooked cupful can provide as much as 17 g, which is more than half of the 24 g recommended daily for women. Low-fat protein? They're a smarter option than the leanest beef or chicken. Antioxidants? The latest USDA study places legumes at the top of the list of flavonoid-rich vegetables. Their health credentials stack up high as well. According to a comprehensive Michigan State University review, eating legumes can reduce the risk and severity of life-threatening conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and several types of cancer. Beans may even help you lose weight-all that fiber helps create a feeling of fullness that keeps you satisfied longer.

To reap all these benefits, you need to be, well, a bean counter: The 2005 Dietary Guidelines call for us to consume at least 3 cups a week-three times the measly 1 cup we usually manage. Eating more beans shouldn't be a challenge; after all, the first step in preparing them is often cranking open a can. Once you realize the variety of colors, textures, and flavors they bring to the table, you'll see why beans have played such a central role in many of the world's cuisines- and why they should become a staple in your diet. Up next: five recipes that provide a delicious sampling from around the globe. These recipes can be made with either canned or dried beans, but nutritional analyses are for dried.
Italian Shrimp and Chickpea
Salad

Peppery arugula is the perfect foil to the mild chickpeas, sweet tomatoes, and succulent shrimp in this elegant salad. If you don't like bitter greens, try baby spinach instead (both are great sources of iron). Precooked shrimp are available fresh from the fish counter or frozen (thaw before using).

TOTAL TIME 20 minutes

1 c dried chickpeas, prepared as directed (through step 2) in "Dried
Beans--Simplified," (see note, below), or 2 c rinsed and drained
canned chickpeas
1 lb med cooked, peeled, and deveined shrimp
2 med tomatoes (about ½ lb), seeded and chopped
6 lg leaves basil, chopped
¼ c olive oil
4 c arugula

• In large bowl, gently toss chickpeas, shrimp, tomatoes, basil, and oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve over arugula.
Makes 6 servings

NUTRITIONAL INFO PER SERVING 270 cal, 23 g pro, 21 g carb, 12 g fat, 1.5 g sat fat, 145 mg chol, 6 g fiber, 180 mg sodium

NOTE When preparing dried chickpeas, add 1 clove garlic and 1 large leaf sage to simmering water to enhance flavor.
Soft Tacos with Kidney Beans and Chicken

Short on time? Use canned beans and substitute precooked Southwestern-style chicken breast strips-you'll have a protein-packed dinner on the table in less than 30 minutes.

TOTAL TIME 50 minutes

1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast (1 lb), trimmed and sliced
thin
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of ground red pepper
3 Tbsp canola oil, divided
1 c chopped onion
? c sodium-free canned diced tomatoes
1 c dried red kidney beans, prepared as directed (through step 2) in
"Dried Beans--Simplified," or 2 c rinsed and drained canned red
kidney beans
8 low-fat whole wheat tortillas (8" diameter)
½ c cubed avocado
1 c salsa (optional)
½ c low-fat sour cream (optional)

• In small bowl, combine chicken with garlic, red pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss well to coat chicken.

• In medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, cook chicken 7 to 10 minutes, turning frequently, until browned and cooked through. Transfer chicken to plate.

• In same skillet over medium heat, sauté onion in remaining 1 tablespoon oil about 3 minutes or until translucent. Stir in tomatoes (with juice). Stir in beans, reduce heat to low, and cook until heated through.

• Warm tortillas in microwave or toaster oven. Fill each tortilla with bean mixture, chicken, and 1 tablespoon of the avocado. Serve with salsa and sour cream, if desired.
Makes 4 servings

NUTRITIONAL INFO PER SERVING (2 TACOS) 580 cal, 48 g pro, 54 g carb, 19 g fat, 1.5 g sat fat, 65 mg chol, 17 g fiber, 460 mg sodium
Black-Eyed Peas and Vegetable Salad

This colorful salad also makes a unique salsa for toasted tortilla chips. Pack leftovers in your lunch with a whole wheat wrap for a flavorful break from the usual sandwich. You can store the salad for up to 3 days in the refrigerator-the flavors will continue to blend. For an upscale touch, consider substituting champagne vinegar for the white.

TOTAL TIME 15 minutes

1 med onion, quartered
1 med green or red bell pepper, cored and seeded
1 lg clove garlic
1 sm jalapeño chile pepper, cored and seeded (wear plastic
gloves when handling)
1 c dried black-eyed peas, prepared as directed (through step 2) in
"Dried Beans--Simplified," or 2 c rinsed and drained canned black-
eyed peas
¼ c canola oil
3 Tbsp white vinegar

• In food processor, finely chop onion, bell pepper, garlic, and jalapeño pepper until mixture is a fine mince, but not a paste.

• In large bowl, toss black-eyed peas and chopped vegetables. Add oil and vinegar and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, if desired. Toss well to combine.
Makes 6 servings

NUTRITIONAL INFO PER SERVING 190 cal, 7 g pro, 20 g carb, 10 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 0 mg chol, 4 g fiber, 20 mg sodium
Lamb Shanks with Flageolets

A favorite in France, flageolets, or immature kidney beans, range in color from creamy white to light mint green. Dried or canned flageolets are sold in upscale supermarkets; if you can't find them, substitute great Northern beans. Garnish this dish with chopped fresh parsley, if desired.

TOTAL TIME 3 hours 40 minutes

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 sm lamb shanks trimmed of all visible fat (about 3 lb total), each
cut into 2 or 3 pieces
1 med leek, white part only, halved lengthwise, sliced thinly
crosswise, and washed well to remove grit
1 med carrot, sliced diagonally
1 lg clove garlic, minced
1 c dried flageolets, prepared as directed (step 1 only) in "Dried
Beans--Simplified," or 2 c rinsed and drained canned flageolets
1 c canned diced tomatoes
1 bay leaf
4 sprigs thyme or ¼ tsp dried thyme
4 c low-fat reduced-sodium chicken broth

• Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat oil in heavy 6-quart ovenproof Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add lamb, season with freshly ground black pepper, and brown on all sides, about 15 minutes. Transfer lamb to platter.

• Add leek, carrot, and garlic to Dutch oven and sauté 2 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften. Stir in soaked dried beans (if using), tomatoes (with juice), bay leaf, and thyme. If using canned beans, reserve. Add lamb and broth and bring to a simmer.

• Cover Dutch oven and place on middle rack of oven. Cook 2½ to 3 hours or until meat and beans are tender. (If using canned beans, stir in 15 minutes before end of cooking time.) Remove bay leaf before serving.
Makes 6 servings

NUTRITIONAL INFO PER SERVING 400 cal, 45 g pro, 26 g carb, 12 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 120 mg chol, 9 g fiber, 360 mg sodium
Middle Eastern Red Lentil Soup

Dried lentils of all varieties are time-savers- they don't require any soaking or softening. Preheating the bowls in a warm oven will keep this hearty soup steaming hot; add some crusty bread for a perfect late-winter lunch.

TOTAL TIME 45 minutes

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 med onion, finely chopped
2 med carrots, finely chopped 1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 c dried red lentils
2 Tbsp tomato paste
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground red pepper
5 c reduced-sodium chicken broth
6 Tbsp low-fat plain yogurt

• Heat oil in medium soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, and celery and sauté about 3 minutes or until vegetables begin to soften.

• Stir in lentils, tomato paste, cumin, pepper, and broth. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes or until lentils are soft and soup is thick. Salt to taste.

• Place 1 cup of soup in food processor or blender. Puree until smooth. Combine with soup in pot and heat through.

• Ladle into 6 preheated bowls and top each with 1 tablespoon of the yogurt.
Makes 6 servings

NUTRITIONAL INFO PER SERVING 200 cal, 14 g pro, 28 g carb, 4.5 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 0 mg chol, 6 g fiber, 140 mg sodium
3 One-Can Plans

Add a few simple ingredients to a can of beans and whip up a satisfying, healthful dish:

THE CAN: BLACK BEANS

THE PLAN: HEARTY SOUP

Rinse and drain lean (15 oz) unsalted black beans. In blender, combine with 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth, V2 c chunky salsa, and ½ tsp ground cumin. Puree until smooth. Warm in saucepan over medium heat. Top with fat-free sour cream and chopped cilantro. if desired. (2 servings)

THE CAN: CANNELLINI BEANS

THE PLAN: THE PLAN: PASTA SALAD

Rinse and drain 1 can (15.5 oz) cannellini beans. In large bowl, combine with 4 c cooked and rinsed small pasta shells, 1 pkg (10 oz) thawed frozen peas and carrots, and 2 Tbsp chopped onion. Mix ¼ c low-fat Italian dressing and ¼ c reduced-fat mayonnaise in small bowl. Add to pasta and toss. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and chopped fresh parsley to taste. (8 servings)

THE CAN: CHICKPEAS

THE PLAN: THE PLAN: HUMMUS IN A HURRY

Rinse and drain 1 can (16 oz) chickpeas. In food processor, combine with 3 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice, 2 Tbsp tahini, 1 Tbsp olive oil. 1 tsp bottled minced garlic, and ? tsp crushed red pepper. Process until smooth. (8 servings)
Dried Beans--Simplified

For most of us, the idea of using dried beans seems about as modern as doing laundry in the stream out back. But chefs often prefer using dried beans because their texture is firmer and the flavor of the finished dish can be more easily controlled. (So can the sodium level.)

Despite popular opinion, the soaking and softening process isn't that big a deal:

Step 1 Wash beans and pick through to ensure no small stones are present. Then cover with cold water. Use about six times the amount of water to beans, because as the beans rehydrate, they'll almost double in size. For example, if you start with 1 cup of dried beans, cover with 6 cups of water. Let stand overnight and then drain and rinse. (FYI: You'll be rinsing away the starchlike compounds that cause flatulence later.)

Step 2 Place beans in a saucepan and cover by at least 1 inch with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, covered, 45 minutes or until tender. If the water level dips below the top of the beans, simply add more water to cover. While the beans are simmering, check occasionally to skim away any impurities that float to the surface. Drain and rinse again before using.

PHOTO (COLOR): Shrimp and chickpeas deliver a double dose of lean protein-23 g in a single serving

PHOTO (COLOR): A cup of kidney beans supplies one-quarter of your RDA for magnesium; a deficiency may lead to migraines

PHOTO (COLOR): One cup of black-eyed peas provides nearly an entire day's worth of folate

PHOTO (COLOR): One serving of this French-inspired meal satisfies more than one-third of your daily fiber quota

PHOTO (COLOR): This soup is low in sodium but packed with favor

PHOTO (COLOR)

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By Judith Barrett

Judith Barrett is the author of six cookbooks, including Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy.

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