White Beans

Affordable, delicious and easy to prepare, these little gems are packed with protein and fiber.

Green and black beans are common American fare, but we’ve been slower to discover white beans. Used around the world as a primary source of protein, these versatile legumes are hearty, and rich in minerals.

Food Basics

White beans come from the flowering plants of the legume family. Popular varieties include the navy bean (also called white pea bean, small white bean, Boston bean, Yankee bean or fagioli), which is small and cooks relatively quickly; the Great Northern, which looks like a baby lima bean; the white kidney bean (also called cannellini or fazolia), a large variety with a nutty flavor; and the marrow bean, a big, round variety that tastes a bit like bacon. White beans are available precooked or dry. Precooked beans cost a little more, but they take almost no time to prepare.

Nutritional Know-How

A 1-cup serving of small white beans provides 32 percent of the recommended daily amount of protein and 74 percent of the recommended daily amount of fiber. White beans are rich in manganese, an enzyme activator; phosphorous, which helps the body absorb carbohydrates, fats and proteins; magnesium, which soothes nerves and muscles; iron, necessary to produce the oxygen-transporter hemoglobin; and potassium, which helps the nerves, muscles and heart function properly.

Beans can be difficult for some people to digest because they have high concentrations of certain carbohydrates that human digestive enzymes don’t always handle well. So when the beans enter the large intestine, there may be a flurry of bacterial activity — and resulting gas. Taking a digestive enzyme can help, though eating beans regularly also improves one’s ability to digest them.

Eat Up!

  • For a quick and easy bean salad, toss cooked white beans with your favorite vinaigrette, chopped red bell pepper, green onions and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Serve on or with mixed greens.
  • As a substitute for mashed potatoes, mash white beans and flavor them with fresh basil, extra-virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper.
  • Creamy bean spread is a tasty alternative to butter and a delicious base for pizza. In a food processor, combine 1 cup cooked white beans, 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 cup packed fresh spinach, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2  tablespoons rice wine vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Blend until smooth.

Kitchen Tricks

  • To make beans more digestible, soak them in water in the refrigerator overnight (at least eight to 10 hours). Then, pour off liquid, cover with fresh cool water or stock, and bring to a slow boil for at least 10 minutes. Boil the beans or switch to a slow cooker. Cook for about one hour.
  • To determine when beans are done, remove one from the pot and chew it. If it is soft with a slight bite, these will be great for salads, soups or on their own. To use for a spread or dip, cook an additional 15 minutes or until the skin on the beans has opened and the beans are very soft.
  • Store cooked beans in the refrigerator for up to five days by covering them in cooking liquid. To freeze, place chilled, cooked beans and cooking liquid in a freezer container and freeze for up to six months. Thaw in the refrigerator for a day or two, or place frozen beans and liquid in a saucepan and heat slowly over medium heat.
WEB EXTRA!

Vegetable Casserole With Bean Ragout

Makes two servings

Casserole

  • 1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small Japanese eggplant, sliced 1/4 inch thick on a diagonal (about eight slices each)
  • 2 small zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick, diagonal (about eight slices each)
  • 2 small yellow squash, sliced 1/4 inch thick, diagonal (about eight slices each)
  • 2 medium portabella mushrooms with gills removed, sliced on bias 1/4 inch thick
  • 2 medium tomatoes, sliced 1/2 inch thick
  • 1/4 cup prepared balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1/2 cup White Bean Spread (see below)
  • Balsamic glaze (purchase at store)

Topping (mix together in a bowl)

  • 2 tbs. bread crumbs
  • 1 1/2 tsp. grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp. fresh mixed herbs

Heat oven to 525 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, toss the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and mushrooms with the vinaigrette to coat. Mist baking pan with cooking spray. Lay sliced vegetables evenly onto tray and bake in a hot oven for five minutes to roast. Remove from tray and allow to cool.

Coat an 8 1/2-inch-by-8 1/2-inch casserole with olive oil. Layer the bottom with alternate slices of eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini and mushroom. Top with 1/2 cup of the bean spread. Layer the tomato slices on top of the spread and repeat with eggplant, squash, mushrooms, bean spread and tomatoes. Alternate the next layer with overlapping zucchini and yellow squash. Sprinkle top with the breadcrumb mixture to cover evenly. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake for 20 minutes, or just until vegetables are hot, about 120 degrees internal.

Per serving:
Calories 410; protein 15 g; total fat 20 g; saturated fat 3 g; carbohydrates 47 g; dietary fiber 10 g; cholesterol 0 mg; sodium 530 mg

WEB EXTRA!

White Bean, Tuna, and Sweet Onion Salad

Serves four For the salad:

  • 1 cup cooked white beans (if using canned, rinse well)
  • 1/2 cup white albacore tuna, packed in water and drained
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinaigrette (see below)

In a mixing bowl, combine the beans, tuna, onion, tomatoes and vinaigrette (see below). Per serving: Calories 170; protein 11 g; total fat 7 g; saturated fat 1 g; carbohydrates 16 g; dietary fiber 5 g; cholesterol 10 mg; sodium 190 mg

WEB EXTRA!

White Bean and Peanut Butter Spread

Makes 2 1/4 cups

  • 1 3/4 cup cooked white beans (or one 15-ounce can white beans, drained and rinsed well)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted natural peanut butter or almond butter
  • 2 tbs. honey
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 tbs. toasted sesame seeds (optional)

Combine the beans, peanut butter, honey and milk in a food processor and blend until smooth. Toss in the sesame seeds and pulse two times. Chill about 1/2 hour before serving. Use this spread on sandwiches, wraps or whole wheat English muffins, or serve with sliced apples, bananas, celery and whole-grain crackers for a great snack. Per serving: Calories 70; protein 3 g; total fat 4 g; saturated fat 0.5 g; carbohydrate 7 g; sugar 3 g; dietary fiber 2 g; cholesterol 0 mg; sodium 0 mg

WEB EXTRA!

Spinach, White Bean and Tofu Spread

Makes 3 cups

  • 1 3/4 cup white beans (one 14-ounce can)
  • 12.3-ounce package extra firm silken tofu
  • 1/2 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 1 cup packed fresh spinach
  • 2 tbs. white balsamic, white wine or rice wine vinegar
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and purée until smooth. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to one week. Per serving (2 tablespoons or 1 ounce): Calories 25; protein 2 g; total fat 0 g; saturated fat 0 g; carbohydrates 4 g; dietary fiber 1 g; cholesterol 0 mg; sodium 65 mg

WEB EXTRA!

White Bean Soup

Makes 5 cups

  • 1/4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 1/2 cup diced carrot
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh garlic
  • 3 cups cooked small white beans (or two 15-ounce cans, drained and rinsed)
  • 1 tbs. chopped jalapeño with seeds
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1/4 cup chili sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the olive oil in a medium stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the onions, celery, carrots, garlic and beans. Cook until the onions have softened, about two minutes. Add the jalapeño, bay leaf, thyme, cumin and coriander. Cook another minute. Add the vegetable stock and chili sauce. Bring contents to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in the cilantro, salt and pepper. Carefully ladle the soup into a blender. Purée the soup until smooth. Strain the soup through a fine mesh strainer or a colander lined with cheesecloth to remove any bean pulp. Return strained soup to a pan. Heat to serve. Adjust the seasoning with additional salt and pepper. You may need to add a little more stock or water to the soup for a creamy consistency if the soup is too thick. Per serving (1 cup): Calories 180; protein 11 g; total fat 1 g; saturated fat 0 g; carbohydrates 34 g; dietary fiber 10 g; cholesterol 0 mg; sodium 150 mg

Chef Cary Neff is the president of the consulting firm Culinary Innovations and the author of the New York Times bestseller Conscious Cuisine (Sourcebooks, 2002).

Leave a Comment

Subscribe to our Newsletters

Newsletter Signup
Weekly Newsletter
Special Promotions