Rinse, Drain, and Eat Your Beans!

“Where do you get your protein?”

It’s a question those of us who eschew animal products on a regular basis get with some regularity. And that’s okay – I get it. It is difficult to imagine a satisfying meal that doesn’t look like all the satisfying meals we’ve always eaten. Ask away. I’ll tell you a couple of things. 1) I don’t think we (grown adults) need as much protein as most people think we do and 2) I eat a lot of beans. Beans aren’t my only source of protein, but they’re hard to beat for nutritional bang for the buck and culinary flexibility.

I am a proud bean eater, and apparently I’m in good company. Dan Buettner, of The Blue Zones, fame, was interviewed on the Splendid Table a few weeks back and he had some great tips for improving our eating habits – all based on his observations about the happiest and longest living groups of people on the planet. These suggestions are all part of his book, Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way and include reflections on the importance of eating with others and treating meals as events to be attended wholly – without distraction. Sounds pretty good to me!

He also makes some specific suggestions about the kind of food one eats.  In his conversation with Lynne Rosetto Kasper, Buettner suggests starting the day with oatmeal (which I heartily endorse as you’ll see here, here, and here). The most interesting thing  he has to say (at least as it pertains to this post) doesn’t make the write up. If you listen to the interview, at about minute 5 Buettner begins to describe the diet of folks living on an island off the coast of Turkey – folks living there for a very long time with no dementia, by the way. Apparently unique features in this group’s diet include diuretic herbal teas and LOTS OF BEANS.

So great, eat those beans, and if you are a good planner, buy them dry, soak them, cook them ahead. It’s really the best, and cheapest, way to go. And sometimes I pull it off. Truth is, though, that part of the beauty of beans as a frugal and flexible protein source is that when I buy cans of them, dinner whips up in a flash. So great, buy some canned beans. But PLEASE, please please check the label. One of the things that varies the most in canned beans is the amount of sodium in the can. Here you see two labels, one on a popular imported brand, and one my organic store brand (Wegman’s). You’ll note that the store brand beans have only 1/3 of the sodium of the popular import. I like to taste my salt on my food, at my discretion, sprinkled with my hand. I will be sticking with Wegman’s organic beans.

Regardless of what kind of beans you buy in a can, one of the best things you can do with canned beans to improve the sodium problem is to rinse them. I always see this in recipes, and write it in my own, but I never understood how MUCH of a difference that little rinse makes.

According to Sidney Fry, assistant editor of nutrition at Cooking Light, rinsing canned beans reduces the sodium content by 40%. That’s a lot. That’s worth a little spin under the tap if you ask me. Her interview with Sally Swift of The Splendid Table (can you tell I love this program) reveals several other tips for reducing your sodium intake without working very hard.

So now you’ve got your beans, lower in sodium for having been rinsed. What to do with them? The other night I was completely flat footed at dinner time. Not just my usual “I’m formulating a plan but haven’t really gotten all the way through it” situation, but more of an “oh dear how did it get this late and what on earth will we eat” kind of scene. I remembered stumbling across this little black bean burger recipe on the Happy Herbivore. Black bean burgers in minutes was just what the bean loving doctor ordered. They turned out great. I made a double batch (because I make a double batch of nearly everything I cook) and Mr. Little Sis and I have been adding these babies to salads with salsa, eating in pitas with hummus. Yum, and super quick and easy, and full of joyful life lengthening beans. Served up burger style with roasted potatoes and a green salad. Delish.

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