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Beans, Beans and More Beans

Dry beans are among some of the healthiest foods on the planet. Beans are not only a complex carbohydrate, which provides sustained energy throughout the day, but also have many important nutrients such as, calcium, potassium, protein and folate. Plus, you get these benefits without the fat and cholesterol that meat or dairy products might contain. Many Americans do not get the recommended daily fiber they need (25-30 grams a day) and beans are an excellent way to meet these requirements. A cup of cooked black beans contains 8 grams of fiber and a cup of cooked pinto beans contains 12 grams.

One concern when cooking beans is the amount of time they take to fully process. There are a few things that can be done to help with this problem. The first is soaking beans over night. Soaking overnight will help the beans absorb moisture and shorten the time needed to cook them. Another excellent idea is to cook beans in the crock pot over night on low. In the morning they are fully cooked and ready to use or store. They can be rinsed, drained and stored up to a week in the refrigerator or frozen for several months. When cooking or soaking beans do not add salts to the pot or bowl, as salt will prevent the beans from fully cooking and will result in hard beans.

What do you do with your beans? There is no end to the healthy, useful ways to use dry beans in your everyday cooking and baking. The traditional and most frequent use of beans is simply cooked and placed in soups or chili's, mixed with rice or used as a side dish. Although those are excellent ways to incorporate beans into your diet there are many other ways as well.

One of the best kept secrets about beans is their ability to be ground into a fine flour. White beans are recommended as the best choice for bean flour. Bean flour can be substituted for 25% of flour in any recipe. For example, if a recipe calls for 2 cups all purpose flour, 1/2 cup bean flour may be used. For those whose families might not be receptive to beans on the table this is a great way to sneak them in. All the benefits of beans will be received in every day items like cookies and bread and no one will be the wiser. It is not recommended to tell them either as this might influence their interest in the items prepared. Bean flour can also be used to make soups creamy without dairy. To make 4 cups of "cream" soup simply heat 2 cups of water in a pan (do not boil) and 4 tsp chicken bouillon (or bouillon of choice). Combine 2 cups cold water with 1 cup bean flour and whisk until there are no lumps. Combine this flour paste with the heated water and bouillon and simmer of low for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. To make a thinner soup use less bean flour. Spices, vegetables or meat may be added to the soup base for a delicious and nutritious creamy soup without the calories, fat and dairy, plus this creamy soup has all the health of beans. This recipe may also be substituted for creamy condensed soups in casseroles or other dishes.

The other best kept secret is the use of pureed white beans in place of shortening, butter or margarine in baked goods. After the beans are cooked simply drain and place in a food processor, blender or mash with a fork to create a puree. It should be about the consistency of the fat you are replacing and may be substituted cup for cup or simply for half the fat in the recipe. If the beans are too thick and/or dry, just add a little water and stir in completely. Many ask, "how does it taste" [in cookies, etc.] and the answer is, you can't even tell! The foods are delicious and nutritious!

Beans will be filling, satisfying and incorporate many necessary nutrients into the diet. Combined with rice they are a complete protein and provide all the 8 amino acids for the body. They are inexpensive and packed full of flavor. It doesn't get much better than beans.

About the Author:
Emma Snow is a gourmet and freelance writer. Writing for Gourmet Living and Organic Items .