- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 12, 2008

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Though sometimes called the “poor man’s meat,” beans are rich in protein and have plenty to offer a healthy diet.

Packed with fiber and other plant-based nutrients, beans are low in fat. They can prolong the feeling of fullness after a meal and help control blood sugar levels.

Many people won’t bother cooking dry beans, which can require soaking overnight and, depending on the variety, long cooking on the stove. Convenient canned beans, however, are essential for any healthy pantry. Canned beans keep their nutrients during the canning process.

Canned beans are available in numerous varieties and usually are found alongside the canned vegetables at the grocery. Be sure to check the ethnic aisle, too. There you are likely to find less common, but delicious, varieties.

Beans can replace some or all of the meat called for in many dishes. They also can be pureed (with seasonings) to make quick dips and spreads. Or simply add some to a salad for extra protein, flavor and texture.

Be sure always to rinse and drain canned beans before using them to remove excess salt and indigestible sugars that are in the cloudy liquid.

This recipe for triple-bean casserole uses three varieties of beans to make a colorful and quick stovetop dish that is reminiscent of baked beans. Ketchup, cider vinegar, molasses and dry mustard combine with chopped onion to make a sauce that is high in flavor and low in fat.

The recipe calls for crumbled, cooked bacon for flavoring. To make a vegetarian version, simply leave it out or use diced smoked tofu instead.

Triple-bean casserole

From start to finish, this takes 50 minutes .

4 slices bacon

1 teaspoon canola oil

1 small yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)

2/3 cup tomato ketchup

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

2 tablespoons molasses

1½ teaspoons dry mustard

1 cup water

15½-ounce can great northern beans, rinsed and drained

15½-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

15½-ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

Following the package directions, cook the bacon until crisp, then crumble and set aside. In a medium saucepan, heat oil over low. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Add the ketchup, vinegar, molasses and mustard and stir together thoroughly. Add water, all the beans and bacon. Bring the beans to a simmer, cover and cook over low heat for 30 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

Makes 5 servings.

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