Friday, May 14, 2010

Beans & Greens...a thrifty, tasty dish

Dry beans are a money saver. Aside from having a large yield when cooked, they have a long shelf life and are nutrient-rich. Beans are also a wonderful source of protein, fiber, and iron and they are naturally low in sodium and calories, unlike their canned counterparts which can sometimes have up to 15% of the daily value of sodium. The only challenge with dry beans is the fact that you do have to plan ahead when preparing them. They need to be soaked overnight before proceeding with a recipe, or at the very least, quick soaked. If you don’t have overnight, you can “quick soak” them. Rinse and sort ½ pound of beans; place in pot and cover with 3-4 cups hot water. Bring water to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 1 hour. Drain soak water and rinse beans before proceeding with recipe.
One pound of dry beans will yield about 6-7 cups of cooked beans, depending on the size of the bean. A pound of dry beans costs about $1.20. Compare that to a can of beans (15.5-oz.) that costs about $.70 each. Dry beans make for quite a savings.
This recipe for Beans, Greens, & Pasta is a quick and easy slow cooker meal. You could even increase the dry beans to 1 cup making the dish thicker. Or, increase the dry beans and use those cooked beans in another recipe later in the week. Simply strain them out of your slow cooker before you add the pasta and spinach. Cooked great northern beans are a great topping on a green salad, adding protein and fiber. Great northern beans are also used in White Chicken Chili, a popular alternative to the classic beef, tomato, and kidney bean version.
Baby spinach is in season now, so this dish is quite an economical choice this time of year. And, during the late fall and winter months, kale can be substituted making this an easy, thrifty year-round dish for your family to enjoy. If you love spinach, add even more to the recipe. Pasta is on sale somewhere each week, so stock up on this staple when your favorite brand is discounted. Elbow macaroni and other pasta of similar size work well in this recipe. Just use what you’ve gotten on sale. Want to make it a little heartier? Add cooked Italian sausage or sliced, grilled chicken. You can’t go wrong with this money-saving dish.

Beans, Greens, and Pasta

½ c. dry great northern beans, sorted and soaked overnight
4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
3 carrots, scraped and diced
¾ c. onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T olive oil
¼ t. salt
1 c. uncooked pasta
3-4 c. baby spinach
red pepper flakes, toasted chopped pecans, parmesan cheese for toppings

Place rinsed, soaked beans in slow cooker with next 5 ingredients; cook on high 3-4 hours or low 5-6 hours until beans are tender. Add salt, pasta, and spinach; stir well. Cover and cook on high 30 minutes until pasta is cooked and spinach is wilted. Serve with desired toppings and crusty bread.

Time to go Berry Pickin'

Once the weather gets a little warmer, it seems like everyone is looking for an outdoor adventure. Taking after-supper walks, tossing the baseball with the kids, even yard work is good for the soul in the spring. A wonderful activity for your family to try this spring is visiting a berry farm. You and your kids can pick your own fresh, ripe berries and enjoy the sweet fruits all spring and beyond (if you freeze or make jams & jellies.) Make sure you pick only the ripe berries, as they do not ripen after being picked. And, don’t wash berries until you are ready to use them, since they will become soggy and spoil quicker. In Virginia, strawberries will come in first, then blueberries and raspberries, and lastly blackberries. So, berry picking adventures can take place all summer long.
The first of the spring fruits and vegetables to become available are asparagus, strawberries, and spring greens (such as spinach.) This week’s recipe uses strawberries and baby spinach.
I have to give credit to my dear friend, Heather, whose Chicken Strawberry Wraps were the first I’d ever had. She uses breaded chicken tenders and bakes them up golden and crispy in the oven. My version is a little lighter using boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or tenders.) If you are not a big fan of spinach, chopped Romaine lettuce can be substituted. Cooked and crumbled bacon would add a smoky crunch to these wraps, as well. Of course, if you are in the mood for a big salad, forego the tortillas and toss everything in a big bowl.
To save time on a busy weeknight when you and the family are out at practice or a meeting, grill your chicken breasts earlier in the week and pop them in the fridge until you are ready to serve. The chicken can be warm or cold in these wraps; it is your preference. Don’t assemble until you are ready to serve, as the tender greens will wilt and the tortillas will get soggy.

Chicken Strawberry Wraps

4-6 multi-grain or flour tortillas
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
5 oz. baby spinach
1 cup sliced strawberries
1/3 c. fat-free poppy seed dressing
4 T. low-fat bleu cheese crumbles (optional)

Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper and grill over medium heat (300-350 degrees) until meat thermometer reads 170 degrees. Let rest 5 minutes; then thinly slice. Toss spinach, strawberries, and sliced chicken with dressing and divide evenly among tortillas. Top evenly with bleu cheese. Fold bottom up and sides over, and roll up. Serve with fruit and additional dressing, if desired.