Food & Drink

Beans offer nutrition, versatility

Dry beans are a good complement to a healthy diet. They are high in protein, complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber. And they're easy to keep on hand -- it's as simple as drying fresh beans.

To make things even easier, they come in packages. Dry beans expand to about 2 1/2 times their original size when soaked. A one-pound package equals 2 cups dry or 5 to 6 cups cooked.

Dry beans can be stored for a relatively long period of time, but not forever. Dry beans should be stored in an airtight glass or metal container and kept in a cool, dry spot. But remember, the longer they are stored, the more they will be affected by their environment. They will either take on or lose moisture, which will affect the soaking and cooking time. Beans that have been exposed to high temperatures and humidity may be difficult to cook.

There are several ways of preparing dry beans for cooking. All start with a thorough inspection for damaged beans and foreign materials that might include small stones and pieces of dirt. Beans should be rinsed before they're cooked.

Some cooks never soak beans while others do. Should soaking be a part of the process? Yes. Before beans really start cooking, they must rehydrate.

For plain boiled beans, place the drained beans into a large pot and cover with 6 cups of fresh hot water for each pound of beans. You also could add 1 to 2 tablespoons oil or bacon drippings.

Beans are versatile, too. They can be used in everything from hearty casseroles to light salads. Next time beans are on your shopping list, keep these recipes in mind.

Middle Eastern Bean Salad

2 cans (16 ounces each) red kidney beans, drained

1 medium onion, coarsely chopped

1 large tomato, diced

1 cucumber, pared and diced

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Romaine lettuce

Combine beans with onion, tomato, cucumber, parsley and mint. Beat together olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Pour over salad and toss to coat thoroughly. Chill two hours. Mix and serve in bowl lined with lettuce.

Bean-Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Makes: 6 servings

12 large cabbage leaves

1/2 pound mushrooms, sliced

1 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

2 cups cooked, drained small lima beans

1 1/4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

3/4 cup shredded carrots

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon crushed oregano

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Prepared meatless spaghetti or tomato sauce, thoroughly heated

Cook cabbage leaves, a few at a time, in boiling water 2 minutes or until softened. Drain and cool. Saut%C3%A8 mushrooms and onion in butter until onion is tender. Stir in beans, cheese, carrot, parsley and seasonings.

Spoon over cabbage leaves; roll up. Place seam-side down in shallow 2-quart baking dish. Cover and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Serve with sauce.

Ham Hock and Lima Bean Soup

Makes: 8-10 servings

1 large or several small meaty ham hocks

1 clove garlic, minced

4 medium onions, peeled and quartered

4 cups large lima beans, cooked

2 stalks celery

2 carrots, cut in pieces

Cover ham hocks with water, add onions and garlic; simmer until tender, about 2 hours. Add celery and carrots for last hour of cooking. When ham hocks are done, remove from pot to cook, allowing it to cool enough to be handled. Remove skin and bones and cut meat into bite-size pieces. Return ham to pot and add drained limas. Cook for about an hour. Mixture should be the consistency of a thick soup.