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Go Ahead, You’re Busy; Use Canned Beans

Elizabeth Large The Baltimore Sun

Once I would have been ashamed to use a can of beans in a recipe. I wasn’t alone. Anyone who fancied herself (or himself) a “gourmet” cook soaked dried beans overnight and then simmered them for hours.

But who has time for that anymore? What we need are simple recipes for nutritious, good-tasting and, above all, last-minute meals for when we get home and the kids want dinner, now.

Start with a can of beans.

It used to be canned beans were pretty much limited to red kidney beans or baked beans or (if you were in the South) black-eyed peas. Now my local supermarket carries cans of cannellini, black beans, red kidney beans, navy beans, Great Northern beans, black-eyed peas (which are a bean) and chickpeas, otherwise known as garbanzo beans. (Those last took a little hunting. For some reason they were next to the canned green peas rather than in the bean section.)

In an era when many Americans are trying to eat less meat, beans are a high-flavor, low-cost substitute. They are a good source of cheap protein, fiber and iron and are fat-free, with around 100 calories in a half-cup serving.

Their protein isn’t as high quality as that of meat, eggs or dairy products. But you can get the missing amino acids by eating beans with grain, nuts, cheese or milk (think grated cheese on bean soup, or black beans and yellow rice).

Varieties can be used in most recipes interchangeably, but the flavor and texture will be different. Bean dishes freeze well, so you can double the recipe and have it on hand for the next last-minute meal.

I use beans to add protein to vegetarian dishes and as a way to stretch small amounts of meat. The following recipe is so simple you won’t believe how good it is. If the pork is sliced thin enough, the dish will take 15 minutes, start to finish. My non-meat-eating daughter loves it minus the pork.

Texas Pork and Black-Eyed Peas

3/4 pound boneless pork loin chops

1 (15-ounce) can black-eyed peas

1 (14-1/2-ounce) can seasoned tomatoes (I like “salsa-style” for this recipe)

Pan-fry the pork over moderate heat until lightly browned on each side. Add the black-eyed peas and tomatoes and heat through, cooking a bit longer depending on the thickness of the pork.

Serve with corn muffins and a green vegetable or hot spiced fruit.

Yield: 4 servings.

Six Ingredient Pasta

This is a colorful variation when your family has had the usual pastas once too often, and it’s a sneaky way to get them to eat their spinach.

8 ounces bowtie pasta

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 cups fresh spinach, washed

1 garlic clove, peeled

1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans

1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese

Cook the pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, saute the spinach and garlic clove in the olive oil over moderate heat until the spinach is wilted. Discard the garlic. (If your family loves garlic, mince the clove and saute it with the spinach.)

Drain the beans and toss them and the pasta with the spinach and the cheese. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Serve with crusty bread and a simple green salad.

Yield: 4 servings.

Bean Salad Nicoise

This is a handy salad to make in the morning and have in the fridge to pull out at night for a quick supper.

2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans

1 (6-ounce) can tuna

1/4 cup black olives, chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Drain the beans and rinse them. Break up the tuna with a fork and toss with the beans and other ingredients. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Chill or serve at room temperature.

Arrange on lettuce leaves and serve with green beans and French bread.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Seat-Of-The-Pants Soup

This family soup is infinitely changeable; I’ve substituted spinach or other greens for the kale, broken-up spaghetti or other pasta for the orzo and water or vegetable broth for the chicken broth. It’s good almost no matter what, and leftovers freeze well.

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 green onions, chopped

1 carrot, peeled and sliced

1/4 pound kale, washed

6 cups chicken broth

1 (14-1/2-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes

1/3 cup orzo pasta

1 (15-ounce) can navy beans

Saute the scallions, carrot and kale in the olive oil over low heat for 5 minutes. Add the broth and tomatoes; simmer for 10 minutes. Add the pasta and cook 10 minutes more. Add the navy beans, undrained, and simmer 10 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with grated cheese and whole-wheat Italian bread.

Yield: 4 servings.

Vegetarian Curry

Fresh cilantro, available in the produce section of many supermarkets, makes this dish. Don’t omit it.

2 tablespoons butter

1 garlic clove, minced

1 small onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, sliced

1 tomato, chopped

1 to 2 tablespoons curry powder, to taste

2 (15-ounce) cans of beans, your choice (I use two different kinds)

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Over moderate heat, saute the garlic, onion, pepper and tomato in the butter until soft. Sprinkle with the curry powder.

Add the beans, undrained, and lemon juice. Simmer for 15 minutes. Just before serving, stir in the cilantro.

Serve over rice.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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