By Fiona Breslin
The terms “healthy” and “comfort food” often don’t describe a simple food, but black beans merit both monikers. This member of the legume family boasts hefty helpings of protein, fiber, and cancer-preventing antioxidants. One cup of cooked beans provides 60% of all the fiber recommended for the day. Their dense, meaty texture and sweet taste make them especially well suited to vegetarian dishes and a host of comforting soups, chilies and stews.
Black beans also contain phytochemicals (natural plant compounds) such as saponins, which the American Institute for Cancer Research reports may help protect cells from cancer. The beans are low fat and a good source of additional nutrients such as thiamin, folate, magnesium, and iron.
A staple of South and Central American cooking, black beans are inexpensive and easy to store. They can be served hot or cold and are available year-round in canned and dried varieties. The canned ones have a shelf life of one year, while dried beans last indefinitely — either way, they’re easy to keep on hand for a hearty, delicious dish.
Always buy dried beans from stores with a lot of foot traffic, as old ones can take longer to cook. Look for beans that are whole and not too broken. Prior to cooking, soak dried beans at least four hours. One cup will make 2 to 2 ½ cups of cooked black beans for half the price of the canned version. When cooking with canned beans, always rinse with running water before serving to remove excess sodium.
Black beans make wonderful soups and chilies. We recommend our delicious Black Bean Chili that’s quick and easy to prepare. Use home-cooked or canned beans, serve it with brown rice and a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and garnish with cilantro. If you want to make your beans from scratch, check out our Basic Black Bean recipe to create a flavorful base that you can use right away or freeze for later.