Six Creative Ways to Enjoy Beans

By Holly Larson, MS, RD
Man eating beans

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Beans, canned or dried, are an affordable protein source that also provides dietary fiber and other nutrients we need, including folate and potassium. Eating more plant-based foods (even if you’re not a vegetarian or vegan) could benefit your wallet, the environment and your health. MyPlate recommends adults eat 1 to 2 cups of beans per week, which will depend on calorie needs based on your age, gender and physical activity.

One ½-cup serving of cooked beans has about the same amount of protein (7 grams) as one ounce of cooked chicken, beef, pork or fish. Although the protein in beans is not exactly the same as protein from animal sources, when a variety of other plant-based foods are consumed throughout the day, like grains, vegetables, nuts and seeds, along with enough calories, protein needs can be met. Beans and lentils can be used in many recipes to replace some or even all the meat, depending on the dish.

Canned and dried beans most likely aren't going bad in your pantry any time soon and they're available when you need them. Dried beans stay good for a year as long as they're kept dry, while canned beans are good as long as the can is free of rust, dents or swelling.

While there are many important nutrients packed into each little bean, they are most often noted for being an excellent source of fiber, which is important for digestive health. Dietary fiber may also help reduce the risk of heart disease and it promotes a feeling of fullness, which can help with weight management.

Many of us are eating too little dietary fiber, so beans can be a delicious and affordable way to get closer to that goal. A ½-cup serving of cooked beans, provides about 20 percent of the Daily Value. Other vegetables, fruits and whole grains are also sources of dietary fiber.

If you don't like beans, luckily there are many creative ways to enjoy them — it's just a matter of finding one that works for your taste buds!

Here are six creative ways you can enjoy beans:

Start tiny

While dried beans can take a while to cook, lentils will give you a protein-packed meal in a flash. Lentils are tiny, cook quickly and don't need any soaking time. Just give them a quick rinse with fresh water and cook in boiling water. Red lentils take only five to seven minutes to cook, while green lentils are soft after fifteen to twenty minutes. Brown lentils, the most common, cook in twenty to twenty five minutes. Use canned lentils for even more time savings.

If the texture of lentils or whole beans is not your favorite, a smooth lentil soup might be more enjoyable. Lentils break down while cooking but a blender can make it even smoother.

There are lots of bean soup options. Some, like lentil soup or black bean soup, have beans as the main star while other soups, like minestrone, weave beans in with other featured ingredients.

Blend them

You may have heard of hummus, a smooth chickpea dip. These days, you can make or buy hummus in a range of savory flavors or sweet flavors, such as chocolate. Dunk strawberries in chocolate hummus for a sweet treat!

Making hummus doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply combine a drained can of chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans) with a big spoonful of tahini, a tablespoon of lemon juice, one clove of garlic, salt and pepper and a few tablespoons of olive oil in a food processor and blend to your desired consistency. Try bean dips, by alternating the bean source, such as black beans or white beans.

In addition to a dip, hummus can be used as a spread on sandwiches, added to wraps or it can serve as a creamy base for homemade pizza, either in addition to or in place of tomato sauce.

You also may love smooth and creamy beans. Vegetarian refried beans can be purchased in a can or quickly made from canned pinto beans.

Crisp them

Chickpeas are delicious when crisped in the oven. Whether you have a sweet tooth or prefer salty snacks, try rinsing a can of chickpeas, tossing them on a baking sheet with your favorite seasonings, such as pumpkin spice and a drizzle of maple syrup or taco seasoning, and baking them until very crispy. Once cool, crunchy chickpeas can be stored in a jar or portioned into bags for quick snacks on the go. Try eating these snacks within a week for the most crunch.

Eat these baked chickpeas as a snack all by themselves, as a savory crouton or as a crunchy topping for soup.

Bake them

Can you believe beans can make delicious desserts? Black bean brownies, white bean blondies and chocolate cookies are all options that can be made with cooked beans! Bean flours, such as chickpea flour, can also be purchased in the grocery store. 

Take a trip

Beans and lentils are enjoyed around the world. Exploring new recipes and flavors can be a fun way to have a few new menu items in your home.

Try some of the recipes below, or search recipes by cuisine on MyPlate Kitchen.

Pair beans with pasta

Canned beans can be drained, rinsed and added to your pasta dishes along with other veggies. Beans also can be pureed and mixed into spaghetti sauce for a protein-packed dinner. And, even easier — you can find dried pasta made entirely out of beans.

What about side effects?

While some gas is completely normal (we have healthy bacteria living in our gut that exhale, just like we do), too much gas can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Soaking dried beans and discarding the water before cooking them in a pot of fresh, boiling water can help reduce gas.

Ramp up your bean intake slowly and make sure you’re drinking enough water. If you’re dehydrated, increasing your fiber intake can cause constipation and no one wants that!

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