Most Valuable Ingredient: Canned Black Beans
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Black beans are aptly named: a shiny, ebony packet of flavor and nutrition. They maintain their prized, earthy, hearty flavor even when canned. Once you pop the top, they’re ready to eat after a quick rinse, or they can be simmered in soups and stews without losing their firm bite. No wonder they’re a staple across the world — and should be in your kitchen, too.
How healthy are black beans?
Black beans are a legume, a class of foods that includes all beans, peas and lentils. Although black beans are indeed available dried, most of us use canned. And why not? Without much effort, they’re so versatile: great in soups, salads, side dishes, bean burgers and spicy dips. You can enjoy them hot or cold.
Like most legumes, canned black beans are loaded with dietary fiber, an essential key to good health (and good blood serum cholesterol numbers). One cup of canned black beans will give you almost half of what the USDA has determined as your daily fiber need.
But that’s not all: black beans are loaded with protein, folate, magnesium and antioxidants — about 10 times the antioxidants of oranges! It’s incredible that so much nutrition is so economical. Canned black beans run about 90 cents for a 15-ounce can.
Tips when shopping for canned black beans
- Don’t mistake canned black bean soup for canned black beans — they’re sometimes stocked next to each other on supermarket shelves.
- Canned black beans are available in regular or reduced-sodium varieties. The latter is the best choice for our healthier lifestyles.
- Stock up when those cans are on sale! They can last a year in your pantry. You can often make a satisfying lunch or dinner with a can of black beans and no more than what’s in your fridge or pantry: a well-stocked salad, a quick soup or even a vegetarian casserole.
- Black beans have such a firm texture, they hold their shape better than most other beans when canned. You will rarely find split ones as you often do in cans of white or navy beans.
- Black beans are sometimes called “turtle beans” or “Venezuela beans.”
- Black beans are also available dried. These require more work (hours of cooking and possibly soaking) but they cost much less than canned. Look for packages with whole, firm black beans, few shards, little dust and certainly no wrinkled, dried-out skins.
How to cook with canned black beans
- Although canned black beans are ready to eat, they should be drained and rinsed first — to wash off some of the slippery slime common to all beans and to get rid of excess sodium (even in the reduced-sodium varieties).
- Don’t just swirl them in the can with some water. Pour the beans into a colander in the sink and give them a shower under cool water, stirring a couple of times to make sure they all get a good rinsing.
- Because black beans are so firm, they don’t dissolve in soups and stews the way some beans do. In fact, if you’re looking for a smooth or puréed texture in dips and soups, you must mash these beans — with the back of a wooden spoon, in a food processor, or even in a blender.
- Make a simple chili thickener with some drained and rinsed black beans and a clove or two of roasted garlic. Just whir them in a blender or food processor, then stir into the pot a few minutes before you’re ready to serve dinner.
- Consider rinsing a can or two at the beginning of every week. Keep them covered in a bowl in the fridge, at the ready when you are.
- Turn green salads into a full meal by sprinkling them with canned black beans and a little grated cheese. A creamy dressing is the best choice!
- Take eggs south of the border by stirring canned black beans into scrambled eggs or folding them into omelets. Make sure you’ve got some salsa at the ready!
- And while we’re on the subject, make salsa even more chunky by stirring black beans into your batch.
- Don’t forget pizzas! Black beans are great on top. Consider using barbecue sauce instead of tomato sauce — and a grated smoked Cheddar or Gouda on top.
- Canned black beans don’t need much to become a spread. Pour a can of rinsed and drained beans into a food processor, then add a couple of tablespoons of a wet condiment: mustard, ketchup, cocktail sauce, Ranch dressing, mayonnaise, chutney, barbecue sauce or salsa. Whir the whole thing up until smooth; scrape the purée into a small bowl; and store, covered, in the fridge to spread on sandwiches, in wraps or even just on whole-grain crackers.