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Beneficial beans

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In the world of food, beans can sometimes get a bad rap. They often end up being the butt of jokes and they certainly don't have the reputation for being a high-class food.

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But the humble, often laughed-at bean might just be underestimated; the legumes are actually quite healthy, relatively inexpensive and make for great, long-lasting pantry staples.

"It's pretty good food. And it's pretty good nutrition," said Dan Bender, a representative of the Red Wing Area Food Shelf. "There's protein in beans, there's fiber. It's a decent food to have around."

At the food shelf, Bender said there's almost always one type of bean or another on hand. Baked canned beans are very common because they're kind of "ready to eat," Bender said.

But the food shelf also usually has dried beans as well. Bender said these are convenient because they have long shelf lives and don't need to be kept cold.

"We have limited freezer space and limited refrigerator space," he said. "It's good to have things that don't have to keep frozen or refrigerated."

That means they won't take up valuable space in your fridge or freezer either. They can be stored in your pantry without worry until you're ready to use them.

"It keeps forever," Bender said.

Because of beans' nutritional benefits, the legumes are often included in the Minnesota Women, Infants & Children Program, which provides young families in need with necessary nutrition.

The WIC website boasts some of the legumes' benefits: they are a source of protein, which helps fight infection and aids in muscle growth and repair; they contain folic acid, which can help decrease birth defects and may lower the risk of heart disease; they also contain iron, which helps your body carry oxygen.

"When your blood is low in iron, you may feel tired and weak, catch colds and get sick more easily. Children may also have trouble growing and learning," the site says.

If you're still not convinced of the beans' usefulness, there's one more advantage: most bean varieties are very easy on the pocketbook. In many supermarkets, a pound of dried beans costs less than $2.

Here are some of the WIC Program's suggestions for using the legumes:

Bean Dip

Minnesota WIC Program

Ingredients:

3 cans (15-16 oz. each) red, kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed OR 5 cups cooked dry beans

1 cup salsa

1 large bag baked tortilla chips OR bagel chips

For a variation, add:

3 green onions, chopped

1/2 tsp. cumin OR chili powder

1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Mash together beans, salsa, onions, cumin and cilantro with a potato masher, fork or clean hands. A blender or food processor may also be used for a smoother dip.

Serve with baked tortilla chips or bagel chips.

Servings: 14-16

Cooking options

Heat dip using stove, microwave or slow cooker, adding cheese if desired.

Three-Bean Hotdish

Minnesota WIC Program

Ingredients:

1/2 pound ground beef OR turkey

1 medium onion, chopped

1 can (15-16 oz.) kidney beans, drained

1 can (15-16 oz.) butter beans, drained

1 can (15-16 oz.) pork and beans

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp. vinegar

1/2 cup ketchup

Cook meat and onion in large pan on medium-high heat until meat is brown throughout and onion is soft. Drain.

Add kidney beans, butter beans, pork and beans, brown sugar, vinegar, ketchup and mustard. Mix gently.

Cover and cook on low 15 minutes.

Servings: 6

Other cooking options

Oven: Pour into baking dish and bake at 350°F for 35 minutes.

Slow cooker: Heat in a slow cooker on low for 5-6 hours or on high for 2 1/2 - 3 hours.

Chile con Carne

Minnesota WIC Program

Ingredients

1 pound ground beef OR turkey

1 large onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced OR 1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1 green pepper, chopped

2 cans (15-16 oz. each) beans (kidney, chili, black or pinto) OR 3 cups cooked dry beans

1 can (28 oz.) or 2 cans (15-16 oz. each) diced tomatoes, with liquid

1-2 tbsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook ground beef or turkey, onion, garlic and green pepper over medium-high heat until meat is brown throughout. Drain.

Add beans, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper.

Cook uncovered, just below boiling for 45 minutes.

Servings: 8-10

Bean & Chicken Salad

Minnesota WIC Program

Ingredients

2 cups cooked chicken, cubed OR turkey

2 cans (15-16 oz. each) kidney or black beans, drained and rinsed OR 3 cups cooked dry beans

1/2 cup celery, chopped

2 tbsp. green onion, chopped

1/8 tsp. pepper

6 tbsp. salad dressing Italian, Caesar or other favorite

For a variation, add:

1 tbsp. dried parsley flakes

Mix chicken, beans, celery, green onion, pepper and parsley in a large bowl.

Add salad dressing and stir gently to combine.

Refrigerate for 1 hour before serving for best flavor.

Servings: 4

Black Bean Soup

Minnesota WIC Program

Ingredients

2 cans (15-16 oz. each) black beans, with liquid

1/2 cup salsa

1 tbsp. chili powder

2 cups vegetable broth OR chicken broth OR prepared bouillon

Mash beans slightly in a medium pan.

Stir in salsa, chili powder and broth.

Heat to boiling over medium-high heat. Serve with your favorite toppings.

Servings: 4-6

Serving ideas:

1/2 cup cheese, shredded

Sour cream

Green onions, chopped

Fresh cilantro, chopped

Avocado, chopped

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Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.
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