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Beyond Baked Beans

Current federal school meal patterns mandate that foods from the Beans and Peas Subgroup be a required element in school lunches. In “What’s Your Pulse Rate?”, author Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, offers an overview on beans, peas, lentils and other legumes, including creative menuing ideas. When it comes to beans, in particular, there’s no reason to settle for the longstanding kid (and cowboy) favorite of baked beans—school nutrition professionals have a wide range of recipes to consider. Following are some additional tips for prepping various bean dishes.

  • Onions may be added at any time during the cooking process. For a stronger onion flavor, add them during the last half-hour of cooking.
  • Herbs and spices like oregano, parsley, thyme and garlic may be added at any time during cooking.
  • Add lemon juice, vinegar, tomatoes, chili sauce, ketchup, molasses or wine after beans have been fully cooked. You want to wait to add these until beans are tender, as these and other ingredients that are rich in calcium or acids can inhibit that process.
  • Do not add baking soda to beans at any time. Baking soda robs the beans of the B-vitamin thiamin and may affect the flavor of the cooked beans.
  • Cooking times vary with the type and age of beans. Older beans may take longer to cook. Beans are considered “done” when their skins are still intact, but still can be easily mashed between two fingers or with a fork. Always test a few beans to make sure they’ve cooked evenly.
  • Do you see natural brown foam or scum in the cooking water? Don’t worry—this isn’t dirt. It’s the protein from the beans coagulating on the surface. Simply skim it off. Adding a bit of butter or oil also will prevent foaming.
  • During hot weather, beans can ferment while soaking. You might notice fine bubbles and smell a slightly sour odor. To avoid this when the room temperature is hot, soak the beans in the refrigerator.
  • Salt will toughen the beans during the cooking process, so only add it when the beans are almost tender. Do not add salt to the soaking water.