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Beans: The Most Versatile Food

Updated on March 4, 2012

Beans are the Most Versatile Food

When you think about foods and which are the most versatile, what comes to mind? Most people think about how many recipes a particular food can be used in or how many ways it can be prepared. Beans are one of those foods, like many others, that can be prepared in a myriad of ways and hence are very versatile.

You can put them in a chili, soup, or stew, make a salad with them, refry them for burritos or other mexican foods, or puree them with olive oil and spices to make hummus or bean dip. You can also eat beans as tofu or beans as beans. And there are many different types of beans to keep your taste buds happy.

But what makes beans truly the most versatile food is the fact that they offer such a powerhouse of nutrients at such a low cost. Where other versatile foods like chicken provide one macro nutrient such as protein, beans provide carbohydrates, protein, and fiber and can be purchased for less than a dollar a pound. Read on to learn about the different types of beans, the unique properties of each, and a few ways to prepare them.

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Flikr Creative Commons | Source

Different Types of Beans

There are many different types of beans, each with its own unique taste and properties.

  • Black: Black beans are common in latin American dishes and are packed with nutrients and fiber. A simple and tasty way to serve black beans is to mix them with salsa and heat for a spicy side dish. This is a great accompaniment to pork.
  • Garbanzo or Chickpeas: Chickpeas are the light round beans commonly used in Mediterranean dishes and particularly in hummus. Try pureeing some with lemon, garlic, and olive oil for a delisious dip or spread that's healthier than mayonnaise and more nutritious than mustard.
  • Pinto: Pinto beans are the most widely used bean in the United States and Mexico and are used extensively in Mexican foods. Try mixing them with brown rice, cumin, and garlic for a complete, and tasty, protein meal.
  • Great Northern: These white beans can be used in salads, soups, and purees. Try creating a bean dip by substituting these for the chickpeas in the hummus recipe above or use them in soup by combining beans, chicken broth, chopped leftover chicken, spinach and other veggies and heating on the stove.
  • Green: Green beans are a common staple of American meals. One of the most iconic uses is in the traditional Thanksgiving Green Bean Casserole but they can be prepared simply and healthfully by steaming, and then tossing with olive oil, garlic, and slivered almonds.
  • Kidney: Kidney beans are often used in Chili recipes. Both light red and dark red can be used. Or make your own version of baked beans by mixing kidney beans with a little vinegar, bacon, and brown sugar.
  • Lima: Lima beans are popular in the southern part of the United States and are used commonly in succotash, a mixture of lima beans, corn, pickled pork, sugar, butter and pepper.
  • Soy: Edamame is a popular snack that's just whole soy beans, lightly salted and baked. They can be purchased in the frozen foods section of your grocery store. Soy beans are also used in many other products like tofu, soy milk, and soy yogurt. These are great alternatives for vegetarians and those allergic to cow's milk.
  • Adzuki: These small red beans are traditionally used in Japanese cooking. Unlike other beans, dry adzuki beans don't require soaking prior to cooking, easing the preparation somewhat. They are typically paired with sweet ingredients and are a feature of macrobiotic cooking.

My Favorite Chili Recipe


  • 1.5 - 2 lbs ground beef (the family size at the grocery store)
  • 1 Sweet Vidalia Onion, chopped
  • 1 Green Pepper, chopped
  • 1 Red Pepper, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 15 oz cans of black beans
  • 2 15 oz cans of pinto beans
  • 1 28 oz can of petite diced tomatoes
  • 2 28 oz cans of tomato sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
  • 2 Tablespoons Ground Cumin
  • 1 Tablespoon salt (or to taste)
  • 1 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper
  • Optional: Hot sauce to taste

Brown ground beef in a large stock pot with chopped onions and garlic. Drain excess oil. Add chopped green and red peppers, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, and beans. Stir together. Add spices. Stir and heat thoroughly until peppers are soft. Serve with shredded cheese and sour cream on top. Enjoy!

This recipe makes enough for dinner for four with lots of leftovers to freeze for later.

How many times per week do you eat beans?

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