We don't want to jinx a good thing, but could it be that canned beans are recession-proof?
The price of eggs, bread, milk, cheese, meat and other staples of the American diet bounce ever higher. But the lowly can of beans, versatile and nutritious, stays relatively steady. Dependable, like Tom Hanks. • We like a cheap date but canned beans have other redeeming qualities. They are good for us. Packed with fiber and protein and low in fat, they make us feel full longer than simple carbohydrates such as pasta and bread. Plus, there's plenty of variety. Stock your pantry with black, pinto, kidney, garbanzo, cannellini, navy and great Northern beans and you've got the basis for a sturdy dish. Or at least the tools to bolster meat-
meager meals. • Even less expensive than canned beans are dried, but you'll have to soak them for hours to soften and then cook for an hour or two. We like the convenience of cans. • On the negative side, canned beans can be high in sodium, a concern for some people, especially those with high blood pressure. A thorough rinsing, though, eliminates about 40 percent of the added salt. Some organic brands have less sodium; study the labels.
Beans also include raffinose, a natural sugar compound, that can produce intestinal discomfort. You'll find it in cabbage, brussels sprouts, asparagus and broccoli.
Well, nothing is perfect.
Still, get out your can opener. The St. Petersburg Times Taste staff offers these ideas for using canned beans. Remember, always rinse and drain the beans unless directions say otherwise.
• Add any variety to your favorite soup or stew recipes. Even canned soups can benefit from a blast of additional fiber and flavor. Make your own quick black bean soup by cooking 1 can of beans with 3/4 cup chicken broth, 1 to 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/2 chopped onion and 1 teaspoon (or to taste) ground cumin. Simmer until onion has softened, about 15 minutes. Puree and serve with cooked rice and chopped onions.
• Saute navy or pinto beans with a handful of cherry tomatoes, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano leaves and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. A tasty accompaniment for shrimp or chicken.
• Sprinkle dark red kidney beans over a green salad.
• Mix chopped kalamata olives with garbanzo beans, half of a sliced fennel bulb, olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and salt and pepper for a refreshing dish. To vary, substitute feta and fresh chopped basil for fennel.
• Prepare a quick burrito or quesadilla with black beans, shredded cheese and salsa. Include scrambled eggs or tofu and call it a breakfast.
• Puree white beans with olive oil, coarse salt and garlic for a quick dip; serve with pita chips. Make a black bean dip the same way with 1 can of black beans, 2 chopped garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin, salt to taste. If it's too thick, add water.
• Make an updated three-bean salad with kidney, black and cannellini beans plus chopped green (and/or red) pepper, red onion slivers, corn kernels, then dress it with a balsamic or Parmesan vinaigrette.
• Toss together a quick soup with red beans, chicken broth, shredded rotisserie chicken and spinach. Get a little kick from some red pepper flakes.
• Saute garlic in olive oil; add chopped parsley and minced rosemary. Slip in peeled shrimp and white beans and a tablespoon or two of chicken broth. It's ready when shrimp turn pink. Add crumbled feta if you'd like.
• Dress up canned tuna with white beans, sliced scallion, chopped red pepper and an olive oil vinaigrette. That makes it Tuscan. Add halved hard-boiled eggs and green beans and you've gone to France.
• Mound a baked potato with black or kidney beans, salsa and sour cream for a filling meal.
• Bake a bean gratin to serve with pork or pot roast. Mix two cans of white beans with chopped Roma tomatoes and minced rosemary. Sprinkle with seasoned bread crumbs, drizzle with melted butter and bake at 350 degrees until browned.
We take it back about perfection. Canned beans come pretty darn close.
Contact Janet K. Keeler at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586. She gives weekday dinner ideas and recipes on her blog Stir Crazy, www.blogs.tampabay.com/food.