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High-fiber, low-fat beans get taste makeover

February 17, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Beans, one of the best sources of inexpensive protein, are often overlooked on today's table. They're high in fiber, low in fat and full of taste if you give it some thought. "We use garbanzos for different items, salads. I love lentils, sometimes we'll do soups," said James Overbaugh, the executive chef of the Peninsula Hotel.

Used as a side for many meals, beans are often passed over as they seem difficult to prepare.

A low-sodium canned option works well if soaking is problematic. Overbaugh says to put dried beans in lots of room-temperature water overnight, and they will be ready to cook the next day.

"You want to avoid putting any sort of acid or any sort of salt into the water because those two factors can cause the structure to either break down more slowly or not break down at all," Overbaugh said.

He suggested a pinch of baking soda to help break down the sugars in beans many find digestively uncomfortable. Also, changing the soak water a few times helps even more.

Once cooked, black beans come together in a colorful salad by adding diced red onion and jalapeno peppers, sweet red roasted peppers, lime juice, green Tabasco and sweet mango.

"The sweetness and the acid from the fruit is fantastic," Overbaugh said.

A drizzle of olive oil and chopped cilantro carry the flavor throughout.

"Now the beans are already cooked, so remember, there's not a lot of cooking that has to happen here," Overbaugh said.

A similar approach goes to a Mediterranean dish using beans. Adding cooked white beans in a pan, with olive oil, warmed with shallots and garlic on low heat with cracked red pepper, tomatoes and fresh, chopped basil offers taste and texture.

"There's actually an economic reason to make this wonderful treat and a health reason, so you can't beat it," Overbaugh said.

A good tub of hummus can cost $4 to $7, so making it at home beats buying it at the store. Blend sesame Tahini, sweet red pepper, lemon juice, garlic, paprika and herbs in a food processor with garbanzo beans for a smooth and creamy dip.

Here's the bottom line on beans. At about 7 grams of protein per half cup and loads of antioxidants, you can create quite a low-cost taste sensation with a single can or bag.