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National Bean Day is January 6
Why do I love dried beans? There is so much to love.
I’m particularly fond of dried beans. They are easy to store, healthy to eat, and are a very versatile food. They are also a good non-perishable food source that can be bought in bulk, easily prepared, and have good nutritional value at a reasonable cost.
I enjoy eating dried beans as part of breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, and even dessert. They are good eaten alone or in soups, stews, casseroles, fritters and patties, salads, dips, purées, and brownies. You can cook them on the stove, or let a slow-cooker do the work for you. Leftover beans are also great to incorporate into veggie burgers and to thicken soups.
Beans are included in two different food groups – the protein food group, because they are a valuable source of protein, and the vegetable food group, because they provide fiber, plant nutrients, and complex carbohydrates.
Dried beans are low in fat and sodium, cholesterol free, high in soluble fiber, have a low glycemic index, and contain many nutrients including antioxidants, minerals and vitamins. They also come in many different shapes, sizes, textures, and colors including black, white, red, yellow, purple, and blue.
The Cast Of Characters
I imagine when most Americans think about beans, what often come to mind are a handful of popular varieties commonly found in their local supermarket. According to the US Dry Bean Council, the top five dried beans that are eaten per capita in the U.S. are Pinto, Navy, Great Northern, Red Kidney, and Black beans.
Rather than talk about beans you already know (and hopefully love), here is some information about a few of the dried beans that are native to the Americas.
Did you know that some beans were domesticated in Mexico and Peru?
Native peoples on this side of the globe cultivated a wide variety of beans. Domesticated bean seeds were found in the Peruvian Andes from 8,000 years ago, and were gradually brought northward through Mexico to eventually end up as far north as the upper Missouri River and St. Lawrence River valleys.
I recently discovered a delicious bean that originated in Peru and goes by several names, including Peruano, Mayocoba, Canary, and Mexican Yellow Bean. Peruano beans range in color from off-white to yellow, tend to have thin skins, when cooked have a creamy texture and a meaty flavor. They are great for dishes where you want to mash or puree all or part of the beans as a thickener.
Another favorite bean of mine is the Anasazi bean, which tends to cook fairly quickly and also has a creamy texture and a rich flavor. They are a beautiful mottled mix of burgundy and cream colors – imagine a red guernsey cow… I like to use these beans when I want a hearty texture and flavor. I love meat, so these are a good standby when I want to take a break and still have a robust meal.
I have been hearing about Tepary beans for some time and I think this is the year that I will finally try them. These beans are incredibly drought and heat resistant, and grow in the deserts of the Southwest. There is a recipe for a Tepary Bean-Prickly Pear Cassoulet by Gary Nabhan in, Recovering Our Ancestors’ Gardens: Indigenous Recipes and Guide to Diet and Fitness by Devon Abbott Mihesuah, that is on my list of dishes to make. I have read that they hold their shape after cooking, become creamy when blended, and have a nutty, rich flavor, which would be perfect for a recipe like this one. Here are some more Recipes for the Tepary Bean, from Native Seed/SEARCH.
Into The Kitchen
Some of my favorite ways of enjoying dried beans are: refried beans with eggs and salsa for breakfast, as an ingredient of a soup or stew, with corn tortillas and cheese, mixed with corn and sweet onions as a salad, and in black bean brownies. Here are some General Bean Recipes from Native Seed/SEARCH.
Dry beans triple when prepared, thus one cup will yield three cups of cooked beans. It is important to sort through dried beans on a cookie sheet or plate since small rocks sometimes find their way into the packaging. Then they should be rinsed, and either soaked or cooked. The type of bean, how old it is, the altitude, and the hardness of the water will all determine if you need to pre-soak them and the time needed to cook them thoroughly. Some ingredients can keep beans from softening if they are cooked together, so check your recipe or online for more specific guidance.
Some beans cook to a very creamy consistency, while others have thicker and tougher skins. One isn’t better than the other. You just need to become familiar with a few types of beans to know if their creamy texture is well suited for thickening your favorite soup, or if their more robust personality will hold up in a marinated salad. It’s all about relationship – knowing what you want, realizing what you have, and using the right bean with the right dish.
Happy Bean Day – explore and enjoy!
Good books for Native American Bean information and Recipes
Art of American Indian Cooking by Yeffe Kimball, Jean Anderson
Recovering Our Ancestors’ Gardens: Indigenous Recipes and Guide to Diet and Fitness by Devon Abbott Mihesuah
Chiles and Chocolate: Food the Americas Gave the World by Nelson Foster, Linda S. Cordell
Good Links for Ordering Native American and Other Beans, and Nutritional Info
Follow The Savory Muse