In case you haven’t heard the news, the United Nations has officially declared 2016 the year of the bean. In 2013, the elected food was quinoa, which clearly enjoyed its time in the sun; so if the U.N.’s endorsement is any indication, we are all going to be eating a whole heap of beans in the near future.
The bean, or rather the “pulse” (the more inclusive term used by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization) includes all dried beans, legumes such as dried peas and lentils, chickpeas, and all seeds that are grown in a pod.
What is so noble about these foods? They provide more protein than any other plant. They also deliver calcium for bones, magnesium for the heart, potassium for muscle health, and more iron than meat, helping with healthy blood and energy. What’s more, beans are extremely filling and favorable for digestion because of all the fiber.
I’m not above jumping on a hot trend if it helps my family eat more healthfully.
Luckily, beans take on the flavor of whichever spices or ingredients they are paired with, so they are incredibly versatile. They work in an Italian pasta dish, an Indian stew, a Moroccan tagine or a Mexican feast.
Unfortunately, the image of a bean seldom drums up enthusiasm — especially among kids. So here are some ideas for making beans and legumes appealing to the little ones:
• Add a small amount of bacon when preparing any bean dish.
• Snack on edamame.
• Dip crackers or veggies in hummus.
• Make chili.
• Whip up baked beans, which tend to be sweeter than other bean recipes.
• Encourage your children to create their own rice and bean bowl.
• Sneak white beans into lasagna or pinto beans into taco meat.
• Roast them: Dry cooked beans well. Toss with olive oil and salt and spread on a baking sheet covered with foil or parchment paper. Roast at 400 degrees for 35 minutes or until crispy.
• Mash chickpeas or black beans into a burger.
• Puree black or white beans with oil, lemon juice and garlic to make a dip or a topping for fish or meat.
• Toss any bean or legume on salads or into soups.
• Replace half of the butter in a cookie or brownie recipe with a cup of pureed white beans. In fact, a study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics showed people do not notice the difference in taste when cannellini beans replace half the fat in a brownie recipe.
• Experiment with lesser-known varieties, such as the mung bean or the adzuki bean.
Dried beans are simple to prepare in a slow cooker, in a pressure cooker or over the stove. Canned or boxed beans work well, too; just be sure to choose low-sodium and BPA-free containers.
For those of you who feel bloated when you eat too many beans, soaking them first with a pinch of baking soda, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar can help, as will cooking them with a piece of kombu. Chewing thoroughly is essential, as you are more likely to have digestive problems if you allow solid pieces of beans to travel into your digestive tract. Lastly, begin by eating small servings to allow your body to adjust to the amount of fiber and the specific carbohydrates in beans that contribute to the bloating.
So buy and eat more beans this year, first because they are good for your health and waistline and second because the United Nations believes your purchase will ultimately support the grander goal of international food security and sustainable nutrition. The bean suddenly doesn’t sound so boring anymore.
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company, and co-author of “Super Food Cards,” a collection of healthful recipes and advice.