Monday, June 8, 2009

black bean basics

At our house it is the official first day of summer. This time of year brings great fun and food including cold watermelon, fresh salads and savory smells from the grill. Over the next month we will be sharing four of our favorite summer recipes and they all happen to include black beans. So we thought we would share a few black bean basics first.
Beans are a great source of fiber, protein, calcium, iron, and folic acid. They are fat free and rich in antioxidants. For more information about beans check out the US Dry Bean Council.
Black beans are available canned and ready to use in recipes. A regular can contains about 1 3/4 cups of beans.
They are also available dry. Preparing these usually includes soaking and cooking but there is a simple and easy way to use dry beans. It involves one of my favorite kitchen appliances, called the crock pot. Normally beans are soaked to reduce cooking time but by using a slow cooker the processes can be combined. Here's how:

1. Sift the beans through your hand and watch for any small rocks, or dirty beans. (Food growers have pretty cool machines that sort foods, but they don't always catch little rocks that look like beans so you may find one or two.) Then rinse the dry beans before putting them into a slow cooker.

2. Fill the cooker up to a third of the way full with beans and fill the rest with water. (Beans use the water to increase three times their size as they cook.) Don't put anything in with the beans while cooking, especially any acids like tomatoes or vinegar as this slows the softening process.

3. Put the lid on and cook on high for 5-6 hours.

4. It is important to drain and rinse the beans after cooking. Then they are ready to use.

5. Now that the beans are ready, use them in a recipe or put them in zipper freezer bags, label the bags and save for a later date. A quart size bag will hold four cups. After measuring the beans into the bag, seal it, lay it down flat, and press a space across the middle. This will make it possible to break off half the beans (two cups) after they are frozen.

Black beans are a simple, healthy, food that my kids love. Check back for four easy dinner black bean recipes.

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