I don’t know about you, but some weeks are more expensive than others, and if you’re waiting on payday, a big bowl of rice and beans will sustain you until the money hits the bank. That’s why I always keep a bag of dried beans in my pantry. My Mom taught me this trick years ago and it has paid off–literally! Other than being filling and quite inexpensive, beans are really, really good for you!
Sometimes, it’s the simple things in life that we take for granted– milk and cereal, peas and carrots, eggs and bacon, and rice and beans. Interestingly, rice and beans have been staple menu items in many cuisines for centuries, but is this by chance or by design? Did our ancestors realize the composition of these foods actually results in a complete protein? Both rice and beans are supplemental proteins (incomplete) in that each is abundant and deficient in an essential amino acid. The nutrient profiles of these foods allows them to work synergistically in producing a complete protein.
The human body produces twenty-two amino acids, however there are nine essential amino acids that must be gained through diet: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenalalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine. In the case of rice and beans, lysine is abundant in beans, but deficient in grains. On the other hand, grains are high in methionine, and beans are not, so it’s a trade-off. The combination of certain supplemental foods will “complete” the essential amino acid formula, thus providing a complete protein. Other combinations of food are complete proteins–lentils and barley, peanut butter and whole grain bread, legumes with nuts/seeds and raw spinach with almonds. Plant based complete proteins include soy, quinoa, hemp seeds, buckwheat and amaranth. Soy based foods that are complete proteins include tofu, tempeh and seitan.
Legumes provide both soluble and insoluble fiber, neither which are digested or absorbed into the blood. Insoluble fiber moves quickly through the intestinal tract, balancing the pH levels and removing toxic waste. Soluble fiber forms a gel when combined with liquid and binds to fatty acids; this prolongs the process of emptying the stomach, thus, sugar is released and absorbed more slowly. Due to complex carbohydrates, legumes have a low glycemic index which results in the sugars taking longer to break down. Since it takes longer for the soluble fiber to break down, you feel full for a longer period of time.
Beans are naturally low-fat, contain no saturated or trans fats, and are cholesterol free. Additionally, they provide folate, magnesium, potassium, manganese, iron, copper and phosphorous. They serve as a lean protein for maintaining muscle tone and provide complex carbohydrates for energy. For this reason, many athletes include rice and beans into their diets on a regular and frequent basis.
Grains complete the protein when combined with beans. A whole grain consists of a protective husk; the bran, a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals; the endosperm,a starchy source of complex carbohydrates; and the germ, the embryo of the grain, which contains a small amount of protein, vitamins and minerals. Whole grains are labeled as such with a gold “stamp” on the box that indicates whether it is a whole grain (100%) or not.
Some people prefer not to eat beans due to the side effects of the oligosaccharides–those peskycomplex carbohydrates that can cause temporary digestive discomfort and gas. The best way to prevent this is to soak the beans in lightly salted water for at least two hours, or, bring the beans to a rolling boil in lightly salted water for about 10 minutes. If the tap water is “soft”, it might be best to soak and cook the beans in bottled water. Soft water seems to cause the beans to turn to mush. There are also over-the-counter formulas, namely Beano®, that prepare the digestive system for the oligosaccharides and eliminate any gastric distress.
When to Salt
The most controversial issue regarding beans is when to add salt. Some say not till the end, others say at the beginning, and some say add salt in intervals. The science behind this has to do with calcium and magnesium ions in the bean skin. If the beans are soaked in lightly salted water, the salt seeps into the beans replacing some of the ions, and results in a softer bean. If beans are soaked and cooked in unsalted water, they swell too fast and burst. So, the salt acts not only as a seasoning agent, but as a protectant for the bean skin.
Soaking and Serving
There are many types of beans: black, cannellini, garbanzo, lima, navy, pinto, soy and kidney. Black beans offer the most antioxidants, whereas pinto and kidney beans contain the mineral molybdenum, which helps the body in digesting sulfites. (Sulfites are sometimes added to wine and other condiments). Some legumes do not require soaking, such as lentils, adzuki and yellow split peas. A common staple that accompanies many a bowl of rice and beans in the South is cornbread, which provides vitamins A, B6, B12, iron, potassium and calcium.
Cost Efficient and Versatile
There are various ways to “dress up” a bowl of beans. For instance, pinto and kidney beans often include stewed tomatoes and green chiles, sausage, or jalapenos. Navy beans are often cooked in a seasoned broth with a ham hock or bits of ham added. Black beans go great with a spoonful of hot mint jelly mixed in and topped with cheese. The versatility of the bean is endless! Many grocers have beans and rice in bulk, so if you’re in between paychecks and craving comfort food, a big pot of rice and beans can sustain you till the next payday.
Rice and beans have been around for centuries, but the beauty of this combination is that together, they provide a complete protein. They're also the perfect meal if you're working out, trying to eat healthier, or eat on a budget.
- 1 lb. dried pinto beans
- 8 cups water or broth
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 cups brown rice
- 3 1/2 cups water
Rinse and drain beans
Place them in a large Dutch oven and bring them to a rapid boil; boil for 15 minutes, turn off the heat and put a lid on the beans
After one hour, bring the beans back to a hard boil for 10 minutes; then lower heat and cook on low heat till beans are tender
Rinse and drain beans; place them in a large bowl, add 2 tablespoons salt, cover with water; cover bowl with plastic wrap and allow beans to soak overnight
The next day, place the beans in a large Dutch oven and cover with water; cook on low for 3-4 hours, until beans are tender
Place beans in slow cooker and cover with water; cook on low 8 hours
Add water and rice to saucepan; bring to boil
Reduce heat to simmer, cover rice and simmer until rice is fluffy
- Seasoning beans is a personal preference. Some us a tad of garlic powder, or a can of stewed tomatoes and green chilis
- Jalapenos can be added to beans, as well
- In order to obtain the maximum nutritional benefits, use brown rice
- If you prefer, you can add a protein to the rice and beans: turkey sausage, grilled chicken