Baked Bean Month

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High in protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals and low in sodium and fat, beans can be magically transformed from a handful of pebbles to a pot full of yum that is low in cost and high in flavor.

Beans can be boiled, steamed, slow-cooked and even barbecued, but baking seems to rate very high among summertime cooks. Baking brings out the sweetness and the tenderness in beans while helping them retain their shape and texture.

Nearly Perfect
Baked beans are a nearly perfect dish, as they are creamy and saucy in texture and can have flavors ranging from nutty to smoky. And of course, beans -- the star ingredient -- are very nutritious. Beans have no saturated fat and very little unsaturated fat (except for soybeans, which are relatively high in unsaturated fat). Beans are digested slowly, so they are good for long-lasting energy and for people trying to reduce their food intake. A feeling of fullness lasts several hours after a bean meal. Depending on the type of bean you choose, beans can contain Vitamin A, iron, calcium, some B vitamins, zinc and potassium. The fiber content in beans is tenderized during baking, but still adds health to the dish.

Many Choices
Baked beans can be made equally well with dried, canned, frozen or fresh beans.
• You'll have to soak and boil before baking them. Follow package directions.
• Canned beans should be rinsed to remove some of the salt.
• Fresh or frozen beans may need to be briefly cooked before baking.
You should select the bean form that fits in most easily with your lifestyle. If you have time or want to save money, use dried beans. If you want to save time, choose, fresh, frozen or canned beans.

Baked Bean Success Tips
You need two key ingredients for baked beans: cooked, drained beans and a sauce to bake them in. The sauce is used to moisten and flavor the beans.
A rule of thumb for baking beans is to start with 2/3 cup of sauce for every cup of cooked beans. The beans will absorb a lot of the liquid. If you would like to emphasize a certain flavor, add it at the beginning of cooking. If you'd like just a hint of a flavor, add it during the last ten minutes of cooking. For example, if you would like to have an oniony bean casserole, finely chop onions and mix them with the beans before putting them in the oven. If you'd like just a whisper of onions, sprinkle them lightly over the beans just several minutes before removing from the oven.

Mix and Match
A classic New England Baked Bean recipe usually uses white beans but this doesn’t have to be the rule. You can even use more than one type of bean for baked beans - for example, black and white baked beans make an elegant dish.

Have some fun with the sauce. Use the ideas we have on the left side to make a creative baked bean dish that will have guests clamoring for seconds. For more tips and ideas on beans, see www.americanbean.org.

By Nancy Berkhoff, RD, CEC.

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