Bean Stalking

Ever since a life-altering health incident (stroke) in November 1993, I’ve paid particular attention to what food goes into my body.

And March is always a time when I like to reflect, since it’s National Nutrition Month, a nutrition education and information campaign created annually by the American Dietetic Association. The campaign focuses attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

One of the biggest reasons I key on nutrition during March is that dietitians played a huge rule in my recovery. (Incidentally, today, March 10, just happens to be Registered Dietitian Day.) If it weren’t for the valuable advice dietitians gave me when I was in the hospital, my life probably wouldn’t be as good as it is today.

This year’s theme for National Nutrition Month is "Nutrition From the Ground Up." One way I try to follow this is by including beans in my diet. Yes, beans, beans, the magical fruit! The more you eat, the more you …

The 2005 U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating 3 cups of dried beans per week to reduce your risk of heart disease by up to 16 percent. Most Americans eat only about a third of this amount. Recent research shows eating ½ cup of pinto beans daily can reduce serum cholesterol by 8 percent.

Full of complex carbohydrates yet fat-free, beans also can play a role in weight management by making you feel full without a lot of calories. Beans are a great source of insoluble and soluble fiber, with more than 6 grams in a ½-cup serving. They promote a healthy digestive tract, may reduce your risk of some types of cancer and can help control diabetes and maintain healthy blood glucose levels.

Rich in protein, calcium, phosphorus, folate and iron, popular dried beans include black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, pink beans and pinto beans.

All of this is the reason I’m a bean stalker and always am on the lookout for more recipes that include legumes. The following bean recipes came to my attention the other day. I hope to give them all a try. Maybe you should, too.

(Read about some food myths that the ADA dispels at

Madras Chickpeas with Spinach
1½ cups dried chickpeas, soaked overnight in water to cover
1 cup vegetable broth
1 13½- to 14½-ounce can coconut milk
2 tablespoons mild curry powder or to taste
2 10-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach
1 large or 2 medium onions (about 1 pound total), cut into wedges
1 14½- to 15½-ounce can diced tomatoes with chiles
Ground red (cayenne) pepper or crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Drain chickpeas. In a 6-quart or larger pressure cooker, stir together broth, coconut milk and curry powder. Set over high heat. Add chickpeas, spinach and onions. Pour tomatoes on top; do not stir.
Lock the lid in place. Bring to high pressure, then reduce the heat enough to maintain the pressure and cook for 16 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the pressure to come down naturally.
When pressure is released, remove the lid, tilting it away from you to allow any steam to escape. If the chickpeas are not quite tender, replace the lid without locking and simmer until chickpeas are done.
Stir well. Add a pinch of cayenne or pepper flakes or to taste, more curry powder if necessary, and salt to taste. The mixture will thicken as it stands, but if you wish to thicken it immediately, mash some of the chickpeas against the side of the cooker with a fork and stir them in.
Stir in cilantro. Serve in large, shallow bowls or lipped plates.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 380 calories, 17 grams fat (13 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 16 grams protein, 46 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams sugar, 14 grams fiber, 420 milligrams sodium, 250 milligrams calcium.

Korean-Style Black Beans
2 cups dried black beans
6 cups water
½ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar or honey
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
Wash beans thoroughly. Place beans and water in the slow cooker.
In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, sugar and sesame oil. Pour over beans, stirring in thoroughly.
Cover and cook on low for 6 to 10 hours (see note) or until the beans are tender. Serve with cooked rice and cooked greens for a full meal.
Note: After 6 hours in a slow cooker, beans still may have significant crunch. After 8 hours, they will soften but still have some crunch. They will be fully softened after cooking for 10 hours. You can shorten the cooking time by soaking the beans in cold water for 1 to 2 hours before placing them in the slow cooker.
Yield: Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 260 calories, 6 grams fat (1 gram saturated), no cholesterol, 14 grams protein, 40 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams sugar, 14 grams fiber, 1,370 milligrams sodium, 40 milligrams calcium.

Pasta and Lentils
2 cups dried lentils
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into ¼-inch cubes
1 rib celery, cut into ¼-inch pieces
2 canned plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
6 cups water
1 cup small tubular pasta, uncooked
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (optional)
Place lentils in a large colander. Rinse well under cold water and set aside.
Heat olive oil in a pressure cooker over medium heat. Add onion and saute 4 to 5 minutes or until soft, stirring frequently so that the onion does not brown. Add carrots, celery and tomatoes. Cook 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add lentils, garlic, bay leaf and water. Stir to blend.
Position the lid and lock in place. Raise the heat to high and bring to high pressure. Adjust the heat to stabilize the pressure and cook 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat. Lower the pressure by placing the cooker in the sink and running cold water over the lid. Open the pressure cooker and test the lentils to see if they are tender. If not, lock the lid back in place, return to high pressure and cook another 1 to 2 minutes.
While the lentil mixture is cooking, cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions.
When the lentils are tender, mash the softened garlic cloves by pressing them against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon. Taste and adjust for salt (up to 3 teaspoons) and pepper (about ¼ teaspoon). Stir in the cooked pasta.
Spoon into four plates or bowls. If desired, drizzle each plate with a teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil and serve with grated Pecorino Romano cheese.
Yield: Serves 4.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving (using 3 teaspoons salt): 520 calories, 9 grams fat (1.5 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 30 grams protein, 84 grams carbohydrates, 10 grams sugar, 25 grams fiber, 1,840 milligrams sodium, 100 milligrams calcium.