You may have seen piles of colorful beans at your local farmers’ market. Or perhaps you’ve stopped to gawk at the natural-foods store’s rows of bulk bins filled with a mind—boggling array of beans. Go ahead and give them a try. You can cook any variety of bean with our basic cooking method (see Pot of Beans). Then you can use them in any recipe calling for cooked or canned beans.
Besides being delicious and accepting of just about any flavoring, virtually all types of beans are nutrient powerhouses—rich in protein, folic acid, magnesium and protective phytochemicals. (Choose darker-colored beans, and you'll benefit even more; recent research confirms that black, red and brown beans are richest in heart-healthy, cancer-protective antioxidants.) Most beans are high in both soluble and insoluble fiber, and the carbohydrates they contain are slowly digested, with a gentler effect on blood-sugar levels. That makes beans especially filling and satisfying, even though they're fairly low in calories—about 100 to 125 calories per half-cup serving. Hearty, protein-packed and toothsome, beans closely match meat's nutrition and flavor profile, without the accompanying dose of saturated fat.
Cooking dried beans from scratch gives you the firmest texture and best flavor, and it's easy to do with a little advance planning. But there's no denying that canned beans are wonderfully convenient, and you're more likely to eat beans regularly if there are canned beans in your cupboard. So we're advocates of having both types on hand.
When you use canned beans in a recipe, be sure to rinse them first in a colander under cold running water, as their canning liquid often contains a fair amount of sodium.