A perfect pair

Looking for a culinary silver lining in our depressing economy? Learning to cook creatively with cheap foods such as beans and grains can save you money, liven up your table with new recipes and improve your health.

“At pennies per serving, there’s no comparison between beans and grains, and animal protein costs,” says David Gabbe, who teaches vegetarian cooking classes throughout the South Sound. “They are economical. You get a lot of food at a modest price.”

“I can’t say enough good about beans,” says Bev Utt, wellness dietitian at MultiCare’s Center for Healthy Living in Tacoma. “You eat a cup of beans, and you’re full for a long time.”

In years past, nutrition experts often recommended that those who consume no animal protein combine beans and grains in the same meal to ensure adequate protein intake. But no longer.

“That’s old news,” says Utt. “Sometimes it just happens, as in a burrito. The combination works well in a lot of things.”

But it’s no longer considered vital for health.


The federal government’s dietary guidelines recommend everyone eat 3 cups of legumes, or beans, a week.

“Beans are a unique combination of fiber, protein and vitamins and minerals,” says Utt. “They are a marvelous source of protein, and they may help us reduce the risk of heart disease and certain cancers. That’s a pretty strong résumé.”

Utt says canned beans are OK, but they usually contain a lot of sodium you might not want in your diet. If you do use canned beans, she recommends you rinse them off before eating.

Utt prefers cooking dried beans. She buys heirloom varieties from a Web site called While heirloom beans – like heirloom tomatoes – are a little pricier, she says, they more than make up for the cost with added taste.

Gabbe dislikes canned beans because they are packed in plastic-lined metal containers, which he says can leach unwanted chemicals.

Cooking dried beans isn’t difficult.

Here’s Gabbe’s recipe for bean success:

Soak them in a pot filled with water overnight (or all day while you’re at work). Discard the soaking water, cover with fresh water and simmer for an hour or so, or until tender.

“It’s cheaper than buying canned beans, and there are no chemicals involved,” he says.

He likes to cook beans ahead of time, then freeze them in glass jars. Take them out of the freezer and place in the refrigerator in the morning to defrost for use at dinner time.

“They have a nice firm texture, just like you cooked them a moment ago,” Gabbe says.

Gabbe uses beans liberally, in everything from desserts to lasagna.

Lentils are another legume that contains protein and other nutrients. Lentils cook more quickly than beans, and don’t require pre-soaking.

One of the chief complaints from those who don’t like beans is their gas-producing potential. For some people, gradually increasing bean intake can dissipate the problem. For others who are troubled by bean-induced flatulence, Utt suggests a product called Beano, available over the counter at pharmacies. It contains an enzyme that helps break down the fiber in beans.


Grains can also help us edge toward a more plant-based diet – the type of diet health professionals recommend. But it’s important to eat whole grains as much as possible, say the experts.

Government nutritional guidelines say that eating at least 3 ounces of whole grains a day can reduce the risk of chronic disease and help maintain a healthy weight.

Some experts suggest eating at least half of our grains as whole grains, while others push for even more.

“Refined grains are not as nutritious,” says Gabbe.

“Whenever a grain is refined, the germ and bran are removed.” Bran contains fiber, vitamins and minerals, while the germ carries healthful antioxidants and vitamins. When those two parts of the grain are stripped away – as they are from white flour and white rice – you’re left with only carbohydrates and protein.

“When we constantly eat processed stuff, we are missing nutrients,” says Utt.

Whole grains include whole wheat flour, whole oats, wild and brown rice, whole-grain corn and barley, buckwheat, bulgur, millet and quinoa. Most grains can be cooked in water like rice, and can substitute for it in dishes like stir fries.

More food manufacturers are offering whole grain products – you can even buy whole wheat pasta. But searching for whole grain foods can be tricky.

Some foods, like cereal, may be made from processed grains, then have a few nutrients added back in. But the nutritional damage has still been done.

“It’s like somebody stealing $20 from your back pocket, then feeling slightly remorseful, and giving you back $4,” Utt says.

“Look for the first ingredient on the label,” Utt says. “The first ingredient should be some sort of whole grain.”

Finicky eaters who just can’t get their taste buds around whole grains may want to start by mixing whole and refined grains. Cook half white rice and half brown rice, for example. Or throw some whole oats into your favorite cookie recipe.

Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635">

Sesame ‘Parmesan’ Yield: about 3/4 cup

1/2 cup raw sesame seeds (hulled)

1/4 cup nutritional yeast (Red Star brand)

1 teaspoon each onion powder and garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Place seeds in a dry, nonstick skillet. Roast over medium heat, stirring constantly, until seeds become light brown and smell fragrant. Remove seeds immediately from skillet to avoid burning and allow to cool completely. (Another way: Spread raw sesame seeds evenly on baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 30 minutes, or until lightly browned, stirring after 15 minutes.)

Place cool seeds and remaining ingredients in blender and blend until coarsely ground, stopping to stir mixture, as necessary.

Refrigerate leftovers and use within 14 days.

Cook’s note: To save time and effort when making the lasagna, layer the noodles in the baking dish without first boiling them.

Source: “David’s Pure Vegetarian Kitchen” by David Gabbe Lima Lasagna

Yield: 6-8 servings

3 cups cooked and mashed lima beans

1 teaspoon salt

4 cups pasta sauce

11/2 cups onions (chopped)

2 cups mushrooms (sliced)

2 teaspoons garlic powder

11/2 teaspoons each: dried basil and dried oregano

9 whole grain lasagna noodles (uncooked)

1/4 cup Sesame “Parmesan” (optional, recipe included at lower left)

In a bowl, combine mashed beans and salt.

In a saucepan, combine pasta sauce and next 5 ingredients.

Simmer, covered, 15 minutes, or until mushrooms and onions are tender.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread thin layer of pasta sauce mixture on bottom of oiled 9 x 13-inch (or similar size) baking dish.

Without overlap, layer 3 uncooked noodles over pasta sauce.

Evenly spread one-third of mashed lima bean mixture over noodles.

As before, make another layer of pasta sauce, noodles, and mashed lima beans.

Repeat with another layer of sauce, noodles, and beans.

Sprinkle sesame “Parmesan” evenly over top layer.

Cover and bake 60 minutes. Let lasagna stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Refrigerate leftovers and use within 3-5 days, or freeze for longer period.

Variation: Add one or more layers of steamed or raw spinach to make spinach lasagna.

Source: “David’s Pure Vegetarian Kitchen” by David Gabbe Ina’s Wheat Berry Salad Yield: 6 servings

1 cup hard winter wheat berries

Kosher salt

1 cup finely diced red onion (1 onion)

6 tablespoons good olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

3 scallions, minced, white and green parts

1/2 red bell pepper, small diced

1 carrot, small diced

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the wheat berries and 3 cups of boiling salted water in a saucepan and cook, uncovered, over low heat for approximately 45 minutes, or until soft. Drain.

Saute the red onion in 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the remaining 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

In a large bowl, combine the warm wheat berries, sauteed onions, scallions, red bell pepper, carrot, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the pepper. Allow the salad to sit for at least 30 minutes for the wheat berries to absorb the sauce. Season to taste and serve at room temperature.

Cook’s note: Make a big pot of any grains, like wheat berries, on the weekend and then use portions during the week for salads, burritos, side dishes, and soups.

Source: Bev Utt, MultiCare Center for Healthy Living Bev’s Greek Salad With Green Lentils Yield: 4 servings

8 cups mixed lettuce greens

1/4 red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cucumber, sliced into half-moons

2 tomatoes, cut into wedges (optional)

16 kalamata olives

1 cup cooked green lentils

Feta cheese, crumbled on top of each serving as garnish


1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

3 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

Salt and pepper, to taste

Place all vinaigrette ingredients into a small jar with a screw-top lid. Shake to combine.

Place salad ingredients in a large bowl. Pour dressing over the salad and toss gently to combine.

Serve as a light meal with some crusty bread, or fill pita bread for a Greek salad pita pocket. Dress just before eating.

Source: Bev Utt, MultiCare Center for Healthy Living on the web

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