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By MaryAnn Miano

Summer barbecues give family and friends a chance to reconnect with each other, nature, and foods that bring together a crowd. Watermelon, hamburgers, corn on the cob and popsicles –they all represent summer, whether in the backyard or down the shore. Another summer staple is beans, a delicious side dish and healthy option all seasons long!

Beans are simple to prepare and can be used in soups, salads and sides. A few basics about beans:

  • 1 pound of dry beans = 5 to 6 cups cooked beans plus 2 to 3 cups liquid
  • 1 can of beans = 1 ½ to 1 ¾ cups cooked beans plus ½ to ¾ cup liquid
  • 1 pound of dry beans = 3 to 4 cans of beans

To speed up cooking time, soaking dried beans overnight in a bowl of cold water will help soften them and bring cooking time down to about an hour. However, many people do not soak dried beans and simply cook them until they are soft, adding water as necessary. Depending on how old the dried beans are, the cooking time can vary. Older beans take longer to cook. Soaking will fix this problem. A simple overnight bath will keep the beans cooking more evenly. Cooking times vary, of course, as will the size and texture of the beans.

As every vegan is aware, beans are the best source of vegetable protein. Dry beans are the richest source of protein –21 to 27 percent when cooked. However, the protein they contain is incomplete. They usually contain eight amino acids, missing something called methionine, which is plentiful in grains. Grains lack tryptophan and lysine, which are found in beans. The marriage of beans with foods like rice or nuts will give the complete protein needed when eating beans.

Soybeans have the highest protein of any plant (35 percent) and are the only legume to contain all nine essential amino acids needed to form a complete protein. Peanuts are not far behind, coming in at 20 to 30 percent protein (and no, they are not a nut at all).

Beans are a high-energy food with a low to moderate glycemic index, full of complex carbohydrates, which are digested more slowly than those in simple carbohydrate foods. This satisfies hunger longer. They also add more fiber to your diet, which is especially beneficial for diabetics, because fiber helps to maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

Beans are rich in vitamins and minerals, containing high amounts of B vitamins and folate (important for pregnant women). Beans are high in iron to build red blood cells, and they provide significant amounts of potassium, zinc, iron, calcium, and magnesium.

There are hundreds of varieties of beans with distinctive qualities, colors, and textures, so experiment with them in your recipes. Try the following colorful dish to get off to a good start. You can turn it vegetarian by substituting vegetable stock for the chicken stock, eliminate the ham, increase the beans to ¾ cup of each variety, and increase the pimenton to 1 tablespoon and the cumin to 1 ½ teaspoon.



½ cup cooked chickpeas, plus cooking liquid

½ cup cooked dark red kidney beans, plus cooking liquid

½ cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed, liquid discarded

About 2 ½ cups chicken stock

¼ teaspoon crumbled saffron threads

¼ cup olive oil

1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, trimmed and thinly sliced

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 cup diced piquillo peppers or 1 large red bell pepper

diced½ pound boneless ham, diced

3 cups rinsed and thinly sliced Swiss chard leaves and stalks (about ½ bunch)

1 ripe tomato

diced¼ cup chopped Italian parsley

2 teaspoons pimenton or paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 cups short-grain rice, such as arborio, Calasparra or bombaSalt and black pepper to taste


1.Preheat gas oven to 425° or an electric oven to 450° F.

2.Drain the chickpeas and kidney beans, reserving their liquid. Rinse the chickpeas and kidney beans and mix with the drained black beans. Combine the reserved bean liquids in a medium pot with enough chicken stock to make 4 cups. Bring the liquid to a boil, turn off the heat, add the saffron and reserve.

3.Heat the oil in a paella pan over medium heat. Add the scallions, garlic, peppers, and ham, and saute until the chiles are slightly softened. Add the Swiss chard, tomato, and parsley, and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer; then stir in the pimento and cumin.

4.Stir in the rice and coat well with the pan mixture. Pour in the reserved hot chicken stock mixture and bring to a boil. Add the beans and the salt and black pepper to taste. Continue to boil, stirring and rotating the pan occasionally, until the rice is no longer soupy, about 5 minutes.

5.Transfer the paella pan to the oven and cook, uncovered, for 12 to 15minutes in a gas oven or 15 to 20 minutes in an electric oven until the rice is almost al dente and the liquid has been absorbed. Remove to a warm spot, cover with foil, and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes, until the rice finishes cooking and is tender but still firm.

Recipe from “Beans: More than 200 Delicious, Wholesome Recipes from Around the World,” by AlizaGreen

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