In Season: Dried beans handy meal-maker in early spring’s ‘shoulder season’

They’re as versatile as they are satisfying and economical. But if you think they’re fit only for burrito filling or tostadas, you don’t know beans.

A staple of winter meals, dried beans are enjoying a renaissance thanks in part to interest in plant-based diets. These are beans grown specifically to eat later; “fresh” dried beans were harvested last fall.

Available year round, dried beans are particularly handy meal makers in early spring’s “shoulder season” while waiting for other vegetables to arrive.

Most people think of beans either refried alongside Mexican entrees or floating in soup. But they also can be the foundation to salads – or a meal.

Longtime Sacramento chef, caterer and food consultant Dani Luzzatti makes her own pinto beans, both as an accompaniment or for use in other dishes.

“I put chopped onions, bacon, pinto beans and water in a large pot,” Luzzatti said. “As it cooks, I’ll season it with salt and pepper, cumin and cilantro. When they get to the point where the beans are still a little firm, I’ll smash a few with a fork to thicken the liquid. They’re a lot better for you than refried and full of flavor.”

That same method can be used with many kinds of beans; although they look and taste different, beans of similar sizes and types are pretty much interchangeable.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we’re not eating enough beans. Americans consume an average of 6.5 pounds of dried beans per year, with the biggest bean eaters in the West (due in part to our love of Latino food) and the South (red beans and rice, anyone?). The bulk of the national bean crop hails from Michigan and North Dakota.

But that national average is only about a quarter of the beans the USDA recommends. Under its dietary guidelines, we should be eating at least three cups of cooked beans a week. Why? They’re an excellent low-fat source of protein.

Because beans offer so much for so little, they’re the building block of many global cuisines. Dried beans can keep months – even years – with no refrigeration. They’re always in season. That also makes them an important ingredient for late winter meals – or as a pantry staple.

With increased interest in heirloom varieties and global cuisine, we now have many more beans available. A typical supermarket now stocks about 15 varieties of canned beans (which almost all are cooked dried beans) and more than 20 kinds of dried. But that’s just the start.

Through farmers markets and specialty markets, hundreds of varieties of dried beans are available: borlotti (or cranberry), Anasazi, canary, tiger’s eye, pinto, black, cannellini, tepary, calypso, mung, soy, adzuki, garbanzo, lentils, black-eyed peas, kidney, navy, lima and many more. Their evocative names reflect their worldwide origins.

For local restaurants and her weekly CSA (community-supported agriculture) customers, Suzanne Ashworth grows dozens of bean varieties at Del Rio Botanical in West Sacramento. Dried beans are a regular part of her winter menu. According to Ashworth, “fresh” dried beans have more moisture – and less potential gassiness – than beans that have been stored for many months or even years. They also take less time to cook and offer more flavor.

After soaking the beans overnight, Ashworth cooks them with a little salt, a bay leaf and an avocado leaf until the beans are soft but still hold together. Here’s her basic recipe: “For a pound of soaked beans, add 10 cups of water,” she said. “Bring to a boil and then simmer two to three hours. As it simmers, add some bacon or the rind off some cheese, some chopped shallot, cloves of garlic and some chili powder, bay leaf and avocado leaf.”

For variety, she stirs in chopped chard or other winter greens when the beans are tender.

Other legumes – including split peas and lentils – take less time to cook, but still offer many of the same bean benefits.

“I love lentils,” said longtime Sacramento food and restaurant consultant Kathi Riley Smith. “I made dal (a traditional lentil dish) with cauliflower and potatoes, lots of onion, carrot and celery, topped with fresh squeezed lemon juice. My favorite is a lentil vegetable soup. I made some recently and added calabrese sausage and sautéed escarole. I ate it for three days.”

Cooked beans can be eaten as is or used in salads, soups, stews or other dishes.

Sacramento food expert Peg Tomlinson-Poswall loves black-eyed peas in soup.

“In the winter time, I make this soup with black-eyed peas,” she said. “I’ll eat it every day all winter. I use onions, carrots, celery, chopped-up kale, tomatoes, chili, leftover salsa; whatever I have on hand. It’s very satisfying – and easy.”

But she doesn’t limit herself to one bean.

“I also love garbanzos,” Tomlinson-Poswall added. “I love all the Mexican beans, especially black beans.”

Luzzatti uses black beans as a salad dressing. “I cook them with garlic and cumin, but you can also use them straight from the can,” she said. “Purée the beans and make a vinaigrette with rice wine vinegar. It’s a low-calorie, low-fat, flavorful salad dressing. It’s not pretty though; it can make the salad look a little murky. But it tastes great.”

Such beans as kidney and garbanzo are a favorite salad ingredient, but don’t stop there. Tomlinson-Poswall suggested this bean salad from the Prepkitchen in La Jolla: “They have a warm white bean salad,” she said. “It’s served with a pesto-based red wine vinaigrette on top of arugula and topped with shaved Parmesan. Delicious!”


Nutrition: Beans come in many shapes, sizes, colors and tastes; but inside, they’re pretty much alike – 60 to 65 percent carbohydrates, mostly as starch. One half-cup cooked dried beans has about 115 calories and 8 grams protein. They’re also rich in dietary fiber while very low in fat – less than 2 percent. Because beans are nutrient dense and relatively inexpensive, they’re an important part of a healthy diet, says the USDA. Beans are a good source of such minerals as iron, copper, phosphorus, manganese and magnesium. Beans also are rich in phytochemicals such as lignans, flavonoids and phytosterols. There compounds may play a role in preventing osteoporosis, heart disease and certain cancers.

Selection: For most dried beans, look for nice, uniform appearance. Avoid any shriveled or broken beans. Tiny pinholes in packaging indicate bug infestation; skip those.

Storage: Store in tightly sealed containers or packaging in a cool dry place, for up to one year. Don’t mix new and old beans; they’ll cook at different rates. Older beans take longer to cook. After cooking, refrigerate and use within five days. Cooked beans may be frozen up to six months.

Preparation: One pound dried beans will yield about 5 cups cooked. Dried beans need to be soaked and cooked before eating. Soaking accomplishes several things: It makes the beans softer and more palatable, cuts cooking time, keeps the beans from splitting during cooking (with their skins in tact) and helps eliminate the substance that can make beans cause flatulence.

Rinse beans before soaking. Pick out any broken beans or foreign objects. To soak, cover beans with fresh water and let sit 8 to 12 hours or overnight at room temperature.

Don’t have all night? “Power soak” the beans. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add beans, then boil three minutes. Do not drain. Take beans off the heat and let them sit – covered – in the hot water for 2 to 6 hours, then drain. In fresh water, simmer the beans until tender.

You may also power soak beans in the microwave. In a large bowl, cover beans with water; allow 3 cups water to 1 cup dried beans. Cover with plastic wrap; vent one side so heat can escape. Cook on high for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse beans (most of the water will be absorbed). Then, cook the beans.

Depending on the variety, size and age of the beans, they may take 1 to 3 hours to cook after soaking. Start testing for doneness after one hour. Add more water as needed to keep beans submerged. Add salt when the beans are al dente, still a little firm but not quite done. Adding salt too early may keep the beans from becoming fully tender.

“Quick-cooking” legumes such as split peas, black-eyed peas, chickpeas (garbanzos) and lentils can be cooked without pre-soaking. Rinse, then simmer in fresh water until tender, about 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Pressure cooking and soaking: A pressure cooker can be used both to speed the cooking process and for power soaking.

To “pressure soak,” place picked over, rinsed beans in the cooker with water; 3 cups water for the first cup of dried beans, then 2 cups of water for each additional cup of beans. Lock the lid and bring to high pressure. Once the beans reach high pressure, start counting. For smaller beans (such as tepary), count to 10 and turn off the heat. Let the pressure release naturally for 10 minutes before unlocking the lid. For medium beans (such as black or kidney), let cook for 1 to 2 minutes before turning off the heat, then let the pressure release 15 minutes. For big or hard beans (like large limas or chickpeas), cook 3 minutes, then let the pressure release for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse, then proceed to cook.

Beans also may be cooked in the pressure cooker without pre-soaking. Place rinsed beans in the pressure cooker. Add 1 tablespoon oil per 1 cup beans. Add water to cover the beans by 11/2 inches; don’t fill the cooker more than half full. Lock lid in place and cook under high pressure. Small beans need 3 minutes; large beans, 10 to 18 minutes. Allow pressure to release naturally. If the beans aren’t quite tender, simmer for a few more minutes conventionally on the stovetop, adding more water if needed.

De-gassing beans: Do beans cause you gas attacks? Blame their complex sugars, particularly oligosaccharides. According to the USDA, these sugars cause digestive issues because our bodies don’t have the right enzymes to break them down. When they reach the colon, gas results. That’s one reason it’s important to pre-soak beans befor cooking; soaking removes most of those sugars. Soak the beans (as described above), then discard that water (it can be used to irrigate plants). Then, cook the beans in fresh water. To avoid those pesky sugars, the USDA also recommends discarding the cooking liquid.

The Mexican herb epazote also is believed to help de-gas beans when added to the liquid during cooking. In Europe, summer savory serves the same purpose. In Indian cuisine, cumin, ginger and cilantro are used to make beans easier to digest. Asian cuisines sometimes use kombu (a dried seaweed) to de-gas cooked beans.

Swapping beans: Canned beans can be a real time saver; they’re cooked and ready to use. Three 15-ounce cans of pinto beans equals 1 pound dried beans.

– Debbie Arrington


Bean and winter squash gratin

Prep time: 1 hour 40 minutes, including soak time

Cook time: 2 hours 10 minutes

Serves 4

Fine-grained, dense squash varieties such as kabocha, Hubbard and kuri work nicely in this gratin because they roast to a wonderful creamy consistency and hold their shape particularly well. If you can’t find those types, substitute any other winter squashes, such as butternut or pumpkin.

As the gratin rests, it will continue to absorb liquid. If you plan to serve it right after baking, you might wish to reduce the bean liquid called for slightly, from 1 cup to 3/4 cup.

Make ahead: The beans need to be boiled briefly, then soaked for 1 hour; or soak them for 8 to 12 hours. The gratin can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes or until warmed through; cover with aluminum foil if the topping starts to brown too much.

From Washington Post food writer Emily C. Horton.


1 cup dried borlotti (cranberry) beans (or tiger’s eye or any pinto-style bean)

Fine sea salt

1 bay leaf

5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Water (optional)

3 ounces country-style white or whole-wheat bread (crusts removed)

Flesh from a 1-pound winter squash, such as kabocha or Hubbard, cut into 1-inch pieces (see note above)

1 medium yellow onion, cut into small dice

2 large carrots, scrubbed and cut into small dice

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon fennel seed

1 dried arbol chili pepper, seeded and crumbled (may substitute 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 clove garlic, cut in half (any green sprout removed)


Place the beans in a pot with water to cover by several inches; bring to a boil, and boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat, cover the pot and let the beans soak for 1 hour. Alternatively, they can be left to soak in tepid water to cover by several inches for 8 to 12 hours.

Add to the beans and their soaking liquid a generous pinch of salt, the bay leaf and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add water if necessary to keep the beans submerged by 2 to 3 inches. Cook over medium-high heat; once the liquid starts to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low, partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the beans are just tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour. The beans might take longer than 1 hour to cook, depending on their freshness. Leave them in their soaking liquid while you finish preparing the rest of the gratin.

Tear the bread into chunks and place them in a food processor; pulse into crumbs. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with 2 teaspoons of the oil, tossing to coat evenly.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the squash pieces with 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1/4 teaspoon of fine sea salt. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, turning them once with a spatula after about 15 minutes, until lightly golden and tender.

Heat 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the oil in a large, heavy sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots, stirring to coat; cook until tender and just beginning to turn golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in the thyme, fennel seed and dried arbol chili pepper; cook for 2 minutes, then gently fold in the squash just until incorporated.

Discard the bay leaf in the beans; drain the beans, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid, and gently stir them into the squash mixture. Season with 1/4 teaspoon salt and the black pepper.

Rub the bottom and sides of a shallow 2-quart baking dish with the cut halves of garlic; discard the garlic or reserve it for another use.

Transfer the bean-squash mixture to the baking dish. Pour 3/4 to 1 cup of the reserved bean-cooking liquid evenly over the top of the dish (see note above), and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle with the bread crumbs.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling and the crumbs are golden. Wait for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Per serving: 420 calories, 15 g protein, 54 g carbohydrates, 18 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 420 mg sodium, 15 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugar


Sour orange pork tenderloin with black beans

Serves 6-7

This Cuban-inspired dish uses a mix of fresh citrus juices to mimic the taste of a traditional sour orange ingredient. The combo gives the pork a tangy punch of flavor. Fresh orange segments are mixed in with the beans to add a citrus kick.

Orange slices are used as a base for each serving of pork, as well. That last step is worth the small effort; the orange slices boost the look of the plate and add another orange element.

Make ahead: The meat needs to marinate for at least 1 hour and no more than 2 hours.


For the pork:

Juice of 1 lime

Juice of 1 lemon

Juice of 1 large orange

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 to 13/4 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed of visible fat and silver skin

For the beans:

4 seedless oranges, such as navel oranges

1 tablespoon olive oil

2/3 cup finely diced red onion

3 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 cups cooked (homemade or no-salt-added) black beans (rinsed and drained if using canned)

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 large orange

1/4 teaspoon sugar

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper


For the pork: Whisk together the lime, lemon and orange juices, 1 tablespoon of the oil, the chopped garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Pour the marinade into a gallon-size zip-top bag and add the pork tenderloin. Seal the bag, pressing out as much air as possible. Place the bag in a bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour and no more than 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Remove the pork from the bag; discard the marinade. Use paper towels to pat the meat dry.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick sauté pan over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the tenderloins and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until nicely browned. Turn and brown the other side for 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer the tenderloin to the lined baking sheet and roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer registers 145 degrees in the thickest part of the tenderloin. Transfer the meat to a cutting board to rest for 10 to 15 minutes; you'll use the pan again.

While the pork rests, prepare the beans: Cut 2 of the oranges into supremes. Use a serrated knife to slice off the ends of the fruit. Place the oranges on a cutting board and slice off their peels and pith, leaving intact as much of the fruit as possible. Cut between the membranes to separate the segments, letting them fall onto the cutting board as you work. Cut each segment into 2 or 3 pieces.

Add the tablespoon of oil to the same pan you used to cook the pork tenderloins; place over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the onion. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until softened, then add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, being careful not to brown it.

Add the black beans, the orange zest and juice and the sugar, stirring to incorporate. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook for about 4 minutes, stirring, until the beans are warmed through. Add the orange pieces and stir to combine. Remove from the heat. Taste and add seasoning as needed.

Cut the remaining 2 oranges crosswise into thin rounds. Cut away/discard the rind, leaving slices that resemble wheels.

Thinly slice the tenderloin on the diagonal. Place 2 or 3 slices of orange on each plate. Shingle the pork slices over the orange slices and top with the black beans. Serve hot.

Per serving (based on 7): 300 calories, 7 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, 65 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 32 g total carbohydrates, 9 g dietary fiber, 9 g sugar, 28 g protein.


Rosemary white beans with lamb

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Serves 4-5

Lamb and beans are a classic combination, often cooked together in long-simmering stews. Here, this version lightens things up by using more beans than lamb. Steam the vegetables and add them at the last minute so they retain their color and crunch. Fast flavors are extracted from a few stems of rosemary, garlic, onions and a dose of red wine.

Haricots verts are a thin French variety of green bean. Once a specialty item, these beans can be found in many markets, including Whole Foods.

Recipe from Stephanie Witt Sedgwick of The Washington Post.


Kosher salt

6 ounces haricots verts or regular green beans, cut into 11/2-inch pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil

12 ounces leg of lamb, trimmed of all fat, cut into generous 1/2-inch cubes

Freshly ground black pepper

1 1/4 cups finely diced onions (about 6 ounces)

2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

Two 5-inch stems rosemary, wrapped/tied in cheesecloth

1/2 cup dry red wine

3 cups cooked, no-salt-added cannellini beans (homemade or from two 15-ounce cans, drained and rinsed)

1/2 cup no-salt-added beef broth

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley


Prepare a bowl of ice water.

Bring a 4-quart pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt, then the green beans; cook for 4 to 6 minutes, until the beans are bright green and just tender.

Drain the beans right away, then transfer them to the ice water to cool for 5 minutes. Spread them on a towel to dry.

Heat the oil in a large, shallow nonstick braising pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Season the lamb cubes with salt and pepper to taste and add them to the hot oil. Cook, flipping them once or twice, for 5 to 6 minutes, until the cubes are lightly browned. Transfer to a plate.

Add the onions to the hot pan; reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the onions soften; add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high; add the rosemary bundle and the red wine. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Return the lamb to the pan and add the cannellini beans and the broth, stirring to incorporate. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Once the liquid is bubbling, cover the pan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Uncover the pan and discard the rosemary bundle.

Stir in the green beans and parsley. Adjust the seasoning as needed; serve warm.

Per serving (based on 5): 290 calories; 8 g fat (2 g sat.); 45 mg chol.; 170 mg sodium; 28 g carb.; 8 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 23 g protein


Black bean, turkey and andouille chowder

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 35 minutes

Serves 6-8

This hearty soup is a good way to incorporate more vegetables and beans into your weekly repertoire. The andouille creates a bit of heat, while the black beans blend in with a classic soup-base trio of carrot, celery and onion.

If you can find turkey broth or stock at the store, by all means use it here, or make your own. If not, chicken broth will be fine. Recipe from The Washington Post.


1 tablespoon olive oil

4 ounces smoked andouille, cut lengthwise into quarters, then each piece cut into 1/4-inch quarter-moon slices

1 medium onion, finely diced (1 cup)

1 medium carrot, scrubbed well and cut into 1/4-inch dice (1/2 cup)

1 medium rib celery, cut into 1/4 inch dice (1/2 cup)

5 cups homemade or no-salt-added turkey or chicken broth (see headnote)

1 1/2 cups cooked, no-salt-added black beans (if using canned beans, drain and rinse them)

1 large or 2 small baking potatoes, peeled and cut into generous 1/4-inch dice (11/3 cups total)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

8 ounces roasted skinless turkey breast meat, cut into 1/4-inch dice (about 13/4 cups)

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley


Heat the oil in a 4-quart soup pot over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the andouille and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the sausage pieces just begin to brown. Add the onion and stir to coat; cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until it starts to soften. Add the carrot and celery; cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes.

Adjust the heat as needed so the vegetables do not brown.

Add the broth, black beans and potatoes to the pot; season with salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then cover the pot and reduce the heat so the broth maintains a low boil.

After 10 minutes, uncover and add the turkey.

Taste, and adjust the seasoning as needed. Cook (uncovered) for 10 minutes to thoroughly heat the turkey and finish cooking the potatoes.

Remove the soup from the heat, stir in the parsley and serve.

Per serving (based on 8): 170 calories; 5 g fat (1 g sat.); 35 mg chol.; 200 mg sodium; 16 g carb.; 4 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 15 g protein


Beggar’s soup

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 2 hours 10 minutes

Serves 4

The Persian tradition behind this dish, a type of porridgelike stew known to Iranians as “ash,” is that long ago, someone in need would leave an empty soup pot by the road. Passers-by would toss in coins so the pot’s owner could buy ingredients. Today, visitors to a dinner bring an ingredient to throw into the soup pot.

Here, a little bit of meat is used for flavoring a rich, spiced mixture of budget-conscious beans, legumes and rice. Chuck roast is an inexpensive cut; next time you buy it, get one that weighs an extra quarter-pound and use the excess to make this soup.

Adapted from “One-Pot Wonders,” by Clifford A. Wright (Wiley and Sons, $23.99, 448 pages). Tested by Bonnie S. Benwick for The Washington Post.


6 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, crushed

4 ounces boneless chuck roast

1 large onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

6 cups water

1/4 cup dried brown lentils

3 tablespoons dried red kidney beans

2 tablespoons dried chickpeas

2 tablespoons dried mung beans (optional)

2 tablespoons raw long-grain white or brown rice

1/4 cup chopped spinach leaves

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

2 tablespoons chopped scallions, white and light-green parts


Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a medium Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute, until the garlic is golden but not burned. Transfer the garlic to small plate; use a fork to separate it into bits.

Add the remaining 4 teaspoons of oil; once it’s hot, add the boneless chuck and the onion, stirring to coat. Cook for about 5 minutes; once the beef has lost its raw look, stir in the turmeric, salt and the pepper to taste, then add the water, lentils, red kidney beans, chickpeas and the mung beans, if using. Reduce the heat to medium-low; cover and cook for 1 hour, stirring once or twice.

Add the rice, then cover and cook for 20 minutes. Add the spinach, parsley, dill and 1 tablespoon of the scallions. Cover and cook for 40 minutes; the soup should be quite thick.

Taste to make sure everything is cooked through; if it isn’t, cover and cook as needed.

Divide among individual bowls. Garnish with some of the reserved garlic and the remaining tablespoon of scallions. Serve hot.

Per serving: 230 calories; 9g fat (2 g sat.); 15 mg chol.; 610 mg sodium; 26 g carb.; 8 g fiber; 3 g sugar; 13 g protein