Something Different
Week of: January 7, 2013
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Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

Begin the New Year in an Old Way

By Dana Jacobi
for the American Institute for Cancer Research

Every year, I make at least one food-related New Year’s resolution. This year it is to cook beans from scratch more often than using them from a can.

“Good luck,” you say, thinking of the time involved. “Get real,” is my reply. Cooking your own beans has multiple benefits. Let me count the ways, health first:

  • No sodium. You add just the amount you wish after the beans are cooked.
  • No BPA. At this time, beans sold in BPA-free containers are still rare.
  • No preservatives. Sulfites are a common additive to maintain the color in canned beans.

Save money and space. A one-pound bag of dried beans makes as many servings as you get in about 4 (15-ounce) cans. Or buy a few ounces of dried beans in bulk. They cost even less and make just enough for one or two people.

Finally, let’s address the big issue – time. My routine is to soak a cup of beans overnight or toss them in a bowl at breakfast time and add water. Unless beans are old, 4 to 6 hours is usually enough soaking. Most beans then cook in 1 hour, time during which you can be doing other things, food related or outside the kitchen.

Two reasons my resolution will work: first, a small amount of dried beans, one-half to one cup, cooks faster than a big pot and makes the right amount for a small household. What is leftover after one meal keeps in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 days. And pre-cooked beans can be used in many ways, from making white bean or black bean hummus, to being tossed into a salad or added to a bowl of soup.

Second: you must try this Tuscan Bean Soup – to see for yourself that the flavor and texture of home-cooked beans is so superior that it is fully worth the effort.

Tuscan White Bean Soup

Tuscan White Bean Soup

  • 1 cup dried navy beans
  • Cold water, enough to cover beans
  • 1 leek, white part only, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrot, in 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery, in 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, loosely packed
  • 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • Fried leek, optional, for garnish (see note)

Place beans in deep pot and cover with cold water to 1-inch above beans. Bring water to boil and simmer, uncovered, for 1 minute. Off heat, cover and let beans sit for 1 hour. Drain beans.

In same pot, cover beans with cold water to 2-inches above beans. Over medium-high heat, bring just to gentle boil. Cover pot partway so it does not boil over, and simmer beans until soft and creamy, 45-60 minutes. Set beans aside in cooking liquid until ready to use. Or, if not using within 4 hours, drain cooled beans and refrigerate, tightly covered, for up to 4 days.

In food processor, pulse leek, onion, carrot, celery and parsley until finely chopped and moist.

In medium Dutch oven or small soup pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add chopped vegetables and cook, stirring, until they soften, 5 minutes. Cover tightly, reduce heat and gently cook vegetables until they let their juices, 10 minutes. Increase heat and cook vegetables until golden, 8 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add broth, 2 cups water and rosemary. Simmer, covered, until vegetables are very soft, 20 minutes. Off heat, use immersion blender to whirl soup until partly pureed, with some vegetables bits remaining.

Add 2 cups drained cooked beans to soup. Return pot to heat and cook until beans are heated through. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. Divide soup among 6 deep soup bowls. If desired garnish with Fried Leek. Or pass grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

Note: For Fried Leek garnish, use white and 1-inch green part of medium leek. Halve leek lengthwise. Cut each half crosswise into 1 1/2-inch sections, then cut each section lengthwise into 1/4-inch strips. Heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in small skillet over medium-high heat. Add leek and cook, stirring occasionally, until strips are limp and start to brown, 3-4 minutes. Stir often until some of leek is deep brown. Drain fried leek on paper towels. As it cools, the browned bits will get crisp. Fried leek can be rolled in a paper towel and kept at room temperature for 8 hours. Use the same day.

Makes 6 servings.

Per serving (1¼ cup): 172 calories, 3 g total fat (<1 g saturated fat), 27 g carbohydrate
11 g protein, 10 g dietary fiber, 393 mg sodium.

Something Different is written by Dana Jacobi, author of 12 Best Foods Cookbook and contributor to AICR’s New American Plate Cookbook: Recipes for a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Life.

Our Mission: The American Institute for Cancer Research champions the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity, so that we can help people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk.

We have contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. Find evidence-based tools and information for lowering cancer risk, including AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention, at

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