Welcome to week three of the “5 Pantry Essentials” series! You already know from the past two weeks that canned wild salmon and quinoa are two essentials to always keep stocked in your pantry. I love both of these staples and cook with them on a weekly (sometimes daily) basis, but today I’m bringing to you the pantry essential that is probably my favorite in this entire series: black beans.
Up until about a year ago, I avoided black beans like the plague. I’d only had them once or twice before and they were prepared in a most unpleasant way both times. A few bad black bean experiences left me scarred for years. It was sometime last spring that I decided to overcome my fear of the dreaded black bean and try them in a simple southwest salad recipe. The impressive results astounded me. I’ve been hooked on black beans ever since.
- Do your health a favor. In his book SuperFoods HealthStyle, Dr. Steven Pratt comments that research has demonstrated that regular consumption of beans, including black, can: lower cholesterol, fight heart disease, reduce the risk of cancer, stablize blood sugar, lower obesity, relieve constipation, and lower the risk for type II diabetes. As if that’s not enough, beans are an excellent source of vegetable protein. In a study of nearly 30,000 women, it was discovered that those who ate the most vegetable protein instead of animal were 30% less likely to die from heart disease.
- Antioxidant power. Black beans deliver just as much of the antioxidant compound anythocyanins as grapes and cranberries. Here’s the deal: the darker the bean is in color, the higher it is in antioxidant activity. And get this: the overall antioxidant level in black beans is ten times more than that of oranges! Pretty cool, huh?
- Fiber. Dr. Pratt goes on to say in his book that “the insoluble fiber in beans works hard to stabilize blood sugar levels. Beans provide the steady, slow-burning energy that keeps glucose levels well regulated. A stable blood sugar is helpful not only for controlling diabetes but also for weight management. Beans provide bulk with minimal calories. They fill you up, minimizing hunger and maintaining energy levels throughout the day.”
What Makes It Essential
The convenience factor of black beans varies greatly depending on if you’re cooking the dried beans yourself (soaking them overnight, then simmering them for several hours) or if you’re using canned beans that require just a quick rinse and drain before use. Most often I use canned beans to save time, but if you find yourself eating beans frequently and preparing large recipes, dried is the way to go. It’s much less expensive in the long run and saves on packaging. For a great guide on how to cook beans (and a great recipe!), click here.
Beans are an essential source of vegetarian protein. When you’re in need of a quick protein boost for salads or stir-fries and don’t have meat on hand, beans have got you covered. So why black beans? What makes them such an essential choice over others? Well, like I mentioned above, they are the highest in antioxidant compounds and provide a great range of vitamins and minerals that’s superior to other beans. They also are smaller and more tender to bite than, say, a kidney or butter bean so they’re a great option for kids and even picky adults.
I love to use black beans in salads or process them into a spread with some sauteed onions, garlic, and chili powder. They also enhance the texture and nutritional profile of soups and stews, which I make a lot of this time of year. In the warmer months or when you’re in the mood for a light and refreshing meal, try out these Black Bean Lettuce Wraps.
I could have posted a recipe for black bean burgers or my spicy black bean dip, or perhaps created a new variation on southwest bean salad. But instead, as I stood in my kitchen one day—housebound because of the frigid temperatures outside—my mind drifted off to sunnier, more tropical destinations. In the chill of winter, how can I bring a taste of the tropics to my kitchen table, I wondered. After a bit of tinkering around, I came up with this delicious recipe to brighten any dreary winter’s day: Spiced Black Beans and Rice with Mango Salsa.
Serve a colorful plate of this along with a tossed green salad for a balanced meal. You’ll want to make sure you use a ripe (but not mushy) mango for this, as an underripe one won’t deliver the desirable sweetness. If the mangos at the grocery store are more like big green rocks, so hard they could serve as doorstops, feel free to sub in pineapple. Not sure if that will provide quite the same effect, but hey….it’s February. We make do with what we’ve got, right?
Spiced Black Beans and Rice with Mango Salsa – Serves 4
1 cup brown rice, cooked according to package directions and kept warm
2 tbs. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 tsp. freshly grated ginger root
1 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. coriander
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 3/4 cup black beans (canned or freshly cooked will work)
Juice of 1 orange
Salt, to taste
Handful chopped parsley
Mango salsa (recipe follows), for serving
Heat olive oil in skillet over medium. Add onion and cook 5 minutes. Add ginger, spices, and garlic. Cook 1 minute until fragrant. Add black beans and cook several minutes to heat thru. Add orange juice to pan and cook until slightly reduced, only a minute or so. Season with salt and stir in parsley.
Arrange warm brown rice on a platter and top with the black bean mixture. Spoon mango salsa over the top and serve.
1 mango, peeled and diced
1/4 cup cucumber, peeled and seeded, chopped small
1 clove garlic, minced
1 plum tomato, seeded and chopped small
1 small serrano chile, seeds and ribs removed, minced
Juice of 1 lime
Combine all ingredients and allow to sit at room temperature for 20-30 minutes to let the flavors combine. Any leftover salsa can be refrigerated for up to 2 days in an airtight container.
Next Tuesday is week four of the “Pantry Essentials” series. I can’t wait to share with you another great ingredient and tasty recipe! Stop back soon!