The Well-Dressed Bean

We have recently become more aware of the enormous health benefits of eating beans. Beans are an excellent low-fat, low-cholesterol source of protein, are rich in fiber and contain many other nutrients. In the Food Guide Pyramid, the United States Department of Agriculture's guidelines for healthful eating, beans are recommended as a substitute for meat.

Although we would like to include beans more often in menus, for many of us with busy schedules there is no time to soak and cook beans since this process requires several hours. The solution is to use canned beans. With a little dressing up, they can make tasty, satisfying dishes. Basically all they need is a few fresh vegetables, a sprinkling of fresh herbs and perhaps a touch of spice. A savory, colorful enhancement for beans is a mixture of sauteed onions, sweet red and green peppers and fresh tomatoes.

One of my favorite ways to season beans is to use the Middle Eastern flavor combination of cumin, garlic and cilantro, which also happens to be popular in Spanish Caribbean cooking. Actually the connection is not so surprising. These flavorings were probably brought to the Caribbean by the Spanish, who had learned about them from the Moors, who earlier had ruled Spain.

A Lebanese specialty calls for beans cooked with sauteed onions, ground coriander and tomato paste. Just make the flavoring mixture, add the beans and heat briefly together, as in the following recipe for Lebanese white beans.


I like to start with the most basic form of canned beans, packed in water with salt. When a low-salt version is available, I use it; I'd rather add salt at the end if it's needed than start with beans that might be too salty. I avoid canned beans that are already spiced because they sometimes have overpowering amounts of sugar or vinegar.

In the following recipes you can use black beans, pinto beans, red beans, Great Northern beans or garbanzo beans. Using different beans will change the character and color of the finished dish but they will all taste good.


This colorful dish is very versatile. Serve it as a main course or side dish or, with a dash of lime or lemon juice or herb vinegar, as a satisfying salad.


2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, sliced

2 green or sweet red peppers, or 1 of each, cut into strips

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 large ripe tomato or 2 canned plum tomatoes, diced

1 (15- or 16-ounce) can black beans, drained

1/2 cup water


Freshly ground pepper

3 cups cooked white rice

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro, green onions or parsley

Hot pepper sauce

Heat oil in large saute pan over medium heat. Add onion and green peppers. Saute 7 minutes. Add garlic and cumin and cook, stirring, over low heat 1 minute. Add tomato, beans, 1/4 cup water and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir and bring to boil. Cover and simmer until sweet peppers are tender, about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle rice into pan. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring as little as possible, until heated through. Add as much of remaining 1/4 cup water as needed if mixture is dry. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons cilantro. Mix in gently with fork. Cover and let stand 1 to 2 minutes. Season to taste with hot pepper sauce. Serve sprinkled with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped cilantro. Adjust seasonings to taste. Makes 4 servings.


This easy bean dish is flavorful but not hot, warming and hearty but not heavy. I sometimes add 1/4 pound "light" Kielbasa sausage in slices and heat them with the beans.


2 (15- or 16-ounce) cans Great Northern or other white beans, drained

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/4 cup water

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin


Freshly ground pepper

Cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

Place drained beans in medium saucepan. Mix tomato paste with 1/4 cup water. Add to beans. Add coriander, cumin and season to taste with salt, pepper and cayenne. Bring to simmer.

Meanwhile heat oil in heavy skillet. Add onions and saute over medium heat, stirring often, until deeply browned, about 8 minutes. Add to pan of beans. Cover and heat gently 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings to taste . Serve hot. Makes 3 to 4 servings.

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