Dried beans are one of the cheapest sources of protein and there are hundreds of varieties. However, most of us are inclined to take the convenient way out and purchase them in cans. They're still cheap, but dried beans that have been slow-cooked at home do possess exceptional flavour. It's a bit like comparing canned peas with fresh.

There is an ongoing argument about whether one should soak dried beans before cooking them. I've recently started preparing them the same way as my Mexican friend Diana has been cooking them for years. They're washed then placed in a large heavy saucepan of hot water, slowly brought to the boil then simmered on very low heat for up to two hours. She doesn't salt them until the end because when soft they'll keep on absorbing salt, but she occasionally adds an onion, carrot and/or bay leaf to add flavour to the stock. You need lots of water - it's similar to cooking pasta - and beans should never be boiled otherwise they'll go mushy. I sometimes use a slow cooker.

Allow the beans to cool in their cooking water. They will keep their shape better. And if they're going to be included in meals over a few days, store them in the refrigerator in their cooking water. For longer storage, drain them and pop them in an airtight container in the freezer.

BEAN & BROCCOLI STUFFED CAPSICUMS

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Butter or lima beans have a pale creamy 'buttery' colour and nutty flavour.

INGREDIENTS

4 red capsicums
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups small broccoli florets
salt & pepper to taste
390g can butter beans, drained & rinsed
3 Tbsp lemon juice
125g fresh mozzarella, diced
400g can crushed tomatoes

METHOD

Halve the capsicums lengthwise, seed and remove any large ribs. Place in a microwave dish suitable also for a conventional oven, cover and cook on high power for 3-4 minutes, until softened.

Preheat the conventional oven to 190C. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Saut the onion, until softened.

Add the garlic, broccoli, seasonings, beans and lemon juice and heat through. Fold in the mozzarella and fill the peppers.

Spoon the tomatoes around the peppers in the baking dish. Bake for about 15 minutes or until hot and the cheese is melted. - Serves 4

BLACK BEAN & CORN FRITTERS

These black turtle beans are popular in Latin American, Caribbean, Cajun and Creole cooking. Add to salads, stir-fries, pasta dishes, tacos and curries. Hungarian paprika is a little spicy.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups whole corn kernels, thawed if frozen
1 small onion, diced
400g can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 red capsicum, seeded & diced
1/2 cup grated tasty cheddar cheese
salt & pepper to taste
1/4 tsp Hungarian paprika
1/4 cup self-raising flour
3 large eggs, separated
2-3 Tbsp rice bran oil

METHOD

Place all the ingredients - except the eggs and oil - in a large bowl. Mix well. Beat the egg yolks then add to the fritter mixture. With a clean beater, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into the mixture. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan.

Cook heaped tablespoons of the mixture in batches until golden on each side. Keep warm in the oven while preparing the remainder. Great served topped with sour cream and mashed avocado. - Serves 4

KIDNEY BEAN CURRY

These kidney-shaped beans are excellent in curries, soups or stews where they absorb loads of flavour.

INGREDIENTS

1-2 Tbsp canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp grated root ginger
1 small chilli, seeded and diced
400g can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp each: ground coriander, cumin, garam masala
400g can red kidney beans, drained & rinsed
salt & pepper to taste

METHOD

Heat the oil in a frying pan. Saut the onion, until softened. Add all the other ingredients, stir well, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Excellent served on rice. - Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a side dish

QUICK MINESTRONE

Cannellini beans originated in Italy. They are creamy in colour and when cooked have a fluffy texture and nutty flavour.

INGREDIENTS

2 x 400g cans crushed tomatoes
1 litre good chicken stock
400g can each: cannellini beans, kidney beans, rinsed & drained
2 cups frozen green beans
2 carrots, diced
salt & black pepper to taste
2-3 cups finely sliced spinach
1/2 cup grated parmesan

METHOD

Place the tomatoes in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the stock and the cannellini and kidney beans and bring to a simmer. Add the green beans and carrots and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.

Season well and add the spinach. Stir until wilted. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with the parmesan. Great served with crusty bread. - Serves 4