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March-April 2006 Selected Content

The Homeschool Kitchen - Christine Gable

Beans: Versatile, Economical and Nutritious

Amidst the incomplete sentences, algebraic equations, hands-on history projects and baskets of laundry that miraculously seem to multiply in the course of a homeschooling parent's day, there is the ever-present need to feed a hungry family. Wouldn't it be great to open the pantry or fridge and have inspiration strike at mealtime?

Join me for cooking ideas and nutritional tips that rely on basic whole foods; we'll create tasty meals from that same old, uninspiring cupboard stock. With family-friendly recipes and hints, before long, young and old will be measuring, chopping, sauteing and stirring together!

Beans: Versatile, Economical and Nutritious

Black beans, navy beans, pinto beans, garbanzo beans... the list goes on. Have you tried them all? Sure, there are baked beans, refried beans and chili, but what else can you do with beans? Amidst all the other colorfully packaged foods in the grocery store, it's easy to walk past those unassuming bags or cans, tucked quietly at the end of the aisle, in search of convenient prepared soups and flashy minute meals. And yet with a bit of planning, beans can be one of the quickest, most nutritious and tastiest proteins you serve your family during the week.

Beans date back thousands of years, as one of the earliest and most important cultivated crops; archaeological carbonized remains of lentils and chickpeas go back about 7,500 years. Most beans are a rich source of calcium, folate, potassium, B vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. For example, one cup of black beans contains about as many omega-3 fatty acids as an equivalent 1 oz. serving of cold water fish, such as halibut, and as much protein as two 8 oz. glasses of milk.

Beans may be purchased by the can, ready-to-use, or dried, in prepackaged bags or bulk bins in your favorite store. Look for smooth, bright, intact beans with no wrinkling or moisture damage. One pound of dried beans costs less than one dollar, and yields about seven to nine cups cooked, thus it's easy to see the economical option of cooking your own. For example, I recently bought one pound of dried lentils at 73c versus one 15 oz. can of cooked lentils for 79c, and one can of lentil soup for $1.87. Yet don't overlook the convenience of keeping those cans on the pantry shelf; they can still be an economical last-minute lifesaver!

Cooking Dried Beans

First, engage the kids in a search through the beans for pebbles. Pour them one scoop at a time onto a plate or small tray, and search through them by hand. Not only is this a fun hunt, but the pleasing texture of the beans often turns this chore into play, so allow extra time for tactile diversions! After all searching has subsided, place in a large bowl and cover with water, two inches above beans. Let set 6-8 hours or overnight (refrigerate in warm summer weather). After soaking, when the beans are reconstituted, pour off the soaking water (for easier digestion!), replace with fresh water, and cook.

Beans may be boiled until tender, or if you own a pressure cooker, use this timesaving tool for preparing large batches. (Pressure-cooking is not recommended for lentils, split peas or black-eyed peas, as the vent may become clogged.)

One note of caution: Do not add any sweetener, tomato, lemon juice, vinegar or salt until the beans are tender, as any acid or calcium will inhibit the softening of the outer skin. That's why Boston Baked beans (cooked with molasses) hold their shape for hours of cooking--without the sweetener, they would be mush, like refried beans.

Storage

Beans freeze well. After the beans are cooked, use as needed; they will keep in the refrigerator for 3-5 days. Larger amounts can be pre-cooked and placed in meal-size portions (2-4 cups, depending upon the size of your family), in freezer bags or containers. Again, kids love to measure and help with this step, and nutritious conversation often results as we're working together! Place in your freezer, and relax, knowing that an economical, yet nutritious protein is ready at a moment's notice.

Here are three tasty recipes to get you started:

Basic Bean Burgers

This recipe works great with any beans--try pinto, navy beans, black beans and more. Engage young family members in the mashing, shaping, and cornmeal steps. Whether plain, topped with gravy, or served alongside a dollop of sour cream, these burgers will turn economical into exciting!

1 15.5 oz. can beans (or about 1 1/2 cups cooked beans)
4 T. salsa
2 t. dry minced onion
1 t. garlic salt
2 T. flour (optional)
1/4 cup cornmeal
2 T. olive oil

Drain and rinse beans. Add salsa, onion and salt, and mash well with fork, leaving some beans whole. If bean mixture is too wet to shape into patties, add the flour. Fill heaping tablespoons, shape into round patties, and gently bread both sides in cornmeal. In large heavy skillet heat oil over medium heat and brown burgers on both sides, turning after 2-3 minutes per side when golden brown. Makes 6-8 patties. Increase recipe as needed.

3-Bean Salad

Turn two cans of beans into a tasty salad. Choose white beans such as navy, cannellini or great northern. To add color, use pinto, kidney or black beans for the second can.

2 15.5 oz. cans of beans (or about 3 cups cooked beans)
2 cups greenbeans, lightly cooked
2 cups corn, lightly cooked
4 scallions, sliced thinly
1/2 red pepper, diced (optional)

Dressing:

1/4 cup oil
2 T. red wine vinegar
1/2 t. oregano, basil and garlic salt
salt & pepper to taste
2 T. mayonnaise

Mix beans, greenbeans, corn, scallions and red pepper (if desired), in large bowl. Whisk together dressing ingredients and pour over salad, stirring gently. Salad is ready to serve, but flavors are best after marinating in refrigerator 1-2 hours. Makes 10 1/2-cup servings.

Basic Bean Dip

Mix and match your favorite beans to create an original dip that is excellent with your favorite chips or warm pita bread. We like to make this with pintos or garbanzos and add sour cream, salsa and black olives for super nacho dipping.

1 15 oz. can beans, pour 1/2 cup extra liquid into separate bowl
1 t. garlic, minced (about 2 cloves)
1/2 t. Adobo seasoning (look for it with Goya products)
1 T. salsa (your choice)

Pour beans with remaining liquid into food processor; add next 3 ingredients and puree 10-15 seconds to desired consistency (adding liquid if necessary) and serve.

I'd love to hear how you make the most of your meals and pull together quick nutritious meals in the midst of many other endeavors. Share your tips, requests or favorite recipes at Recipes@homeedmag.com.

© 2006, Christine Gable

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