Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Beans and peas are almost ideal ingredients for the frugal cook. I use them very often to extend my food and add additional nutrients and fiber. There are a million bean recipes in books and on the Internet. Why? Because beans and peas are grown around the world. Since they are legumes, they fix their own nitrogen and can, therefore, grow in poor soils. This makes them ideal for gardeners since they grow easily, add nitrogen to the garden soil, and certain varieties (mostly the peas) are cold hardy and do well in early spring and the fall. 

Beans and peas are high in protein, plant protein that is. When combined with small amounts of animal protein and grains they provide complete protein. Lets look at the nutritional value of beans.

This label shows the nutrition provided by one cup of plain, canned, baked beans. Obviously each brand will have small differences but this gives us a general idea. Now I think a cup of baked beans is probably more than the average person will eat in one sitting so these numbers are probably higher than what you will actually take in. Baked bean provide Omega-3 and Omega-6 fats but as you can see there is very little fat in beans. It is the pork fat often added to baked beans that adds fat. I almost always get the vegetarian style beans with no pork fat added. Beans are a great source of fiber; one cup provides 42% of your daily requirement according to this label. The high sugar content is what creates the gas usually associated with beans. And as you can see there is a good amount of protein.

What I especially like about beans are the vitamins and minerals they add to your diet. Short of a multivitamin you would be hard pressed to get this variety of both in one food. Beans digest slowly so these nutrients are introduced into your system over time so they are not just expelled in your urine, which is what happens when you take supplements.

I often eat baked beans as a side dish with pork, sausage, and fish. But I also prepare a dish that features the baked beans as the main course. I put two cans of baked beans in a slow cooker and add half to three quarters cup of rice. The rice absorbs the excess liquid, locking in those nutrients. I like my beans in a thick sauce so this takes care of that. I cook them in the slow cooker (crock pot) for 30 minutes and start testing the rice. Once it is soft I cut up an onion and a sweet pepper and add those to the pot. I let this cook for another 15 minutes. A one cup (more or less) serving of this and a tossed salad makes a complete and cheap meal. This will feed four people for about $5.00 - $6.00.

Another thing I like to do with beans is add them to other slow cooker meals. The product I use, because it is available in my store, is Hurst's Brand HamBeens (15 Bean Soup). I am sure there are many other brands that are similar. Hurst's 15 Bean Soup has 15 different beans in it. These include: Northern, Pinto, Large Lima, Blackeye, Garbanzo, Baby Lima, Green Split, Kidney, Cranberry, Small White, Pink, Small Red, Yellow Split, Lentil, Navy, White Kidney, and Black Bean. You would have to look up the nutrition values for each of these varieties to get exact numbers. But I am only using these beans to improve the nutrition of a dish. 

I don't much like bean soup and I really don't like pea soup, but I do like to add beans to other soups and stews. I make my own soup fairly often, once I have accumulated the ingredients, but just as often I buy a can of soup when it goes on sale. To that can of soup I add 2/3 a cup of frozen mixed vegetables, any additional leftover pieces of meat I have on hand, and a half cup of these mixed beans. This will double my soup, so I get two meals from it, and the additions greatly increase the nutritional value of the meal.

As I said, there are plenty of recipes available for this cheap, nutritious, and easy to store food. Dried beans and peas are ideal for long term storage. Buy them in bulk when on sale and store them in a cool, dry, dark place. They will keep for months if not years. As long as no moisture or insects get to them they won't spoil. If you are a survivalist, you know that the free packets of silica that come in many things you buy can be "recharged" in your oven and then placed in airtight containers of beans, peas, and rice to protect them from moisture. That is food security.

One after thought. One of my favorites snacks is a toasted whole wheat bagel smeared with roasted garlic humus. I also eat this for breakfast from time to time. It's high in carbs but also has enough protein and fats to make it filling and nutritious.

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