Beans are Big Again

With more focus on healthy foods, beans are finding wider acceptance on non-commercial menus.

With more focus on healthy foods, beans are finding wider acceptance on non-commercial menus. Beans, high in protein and with more fiber than many whole-grain foods, are enjoying a resurgence in today’s health-conscious marketplace. Operators are getting creative with beans, revisiting old recipes and making some standards with a twist.

“There are many types of beans that we use: black beans, kidney beans, lima beans, garbanzo beans, great northern beans, lentil beans, navy beans and pinto beans,” says Marcia Corbin, executive chef at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Ind. “We incorporate them into several recipes, as a topping on salad bars and as a protein choice at several of our concept stations. For a new twist, we’re incorporating more varieties of beans in our wrap sandwiches.”

At the elementary school level, however, incorporating beans into menus is a challenge, says Paula DeLucca, director of food and nutrition services for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

“The students are wary of beans, and the key is to incorporate them as creatively as possible,” DeLucca says. “Even with chili, we watch the amount of beans we use. We try to create that balance of nutritional value while achieving student acceptance.

“Primarily, we use traditional beans, incorporated in the traditional ways, like in chili and refried beans,” DeLucca says. “We have a black bean salad that we set up entrée-style as sort of a Southwest salad. We also have evolved our house salad, which has become lettuce-based with organic romaine. We’ve complemented that with various toppings; chickpeas have become a popular choice.”

Whether kids like them or not, foodservice directors can’t afford to overlook them, says Mari Lowry, quality control specialist for the foodservice department in the St. Paul (Minn.) School District.

“Beans are most definitely important with the protein, the fiber; and they are very cost effective,” says Lowry. “Primarily we use beans on our choice bar or salad bar as a topping. But then we’ll also have an Italian bean and pasta salad, a black bean salad or a corn and edamame salad.

In a taste test, Lowry says students preferred pinto beans, but she says they were also receptive to chickpeas.

“We have a garbanzo salad that is still in the pilot stage,” she says. “It has veggies, fresh tomatoes, cilantro and a dressing made with lime juice, chilies, cumin and olive oil. It was one of the most popular items in our taste test.”

At Washington State University, Steven Walk, associate director of culinary operations, says Dining Services uses beans in a variety of ways, including making its own hummus and vegetable palouse.

Palouse is a bean and grain dish with vegetables and herbs, such as lentils, split peas, barley and small pasta with onions, celery and an assortment of spices.

“We also make a lentil tostada,” Walk says. “We have a fried tortilla bowl that we fill with a lentil mixture. We use them in vegetarian stews. We even have a turkey and black bean cobbler on corn bread that’s a big hit.”

Beans and whole grains make a healthy combination.

“Beans are easy to incorporate either in sweet or savory dishes,” says Gail Gamble, chief nutritionist for Dining Services at Villanova (Pa.) University. “We mix beans with healthy carbohydrates, like brown rice or whole-wheat pasta, to make a complete protein. The most exotic bean we use is a red cranberry bean, featured in our sweet bean stew.”

The cowboy way: “We use the typical beans: lima, pinto, red, kidney, Peruvian, white and a lot of black beans,” says Gabe Gomez, executive chef, Nutrition Department, Ronald Reagan Medical Center at UCLA, in Los Angeles. “A big dish for us is charro beans, which we boil from scratch.”

Charro beans are also known as cowboy beans, a staple for the frontiersmen of the old West, usually cooked with pork or some other meat.

“We sauté onion, garlic, jalapeño, tomato, cumin, cloves, cilantro and sweet peppers,” Gomez says.

The foodservice department at San Diego State University has turned to heirloom beans to bring more variety to its menus. “We’re using really cool heirloom beans right now, like a butterscotch bean, a Peruvian bean and a calypso bean, which is black and white and looks like a killer whale,” says David McHugh, executive chef.

“We make cassoulet, which is a conventional bean dish from the south of France,” McHugh adds. “It’s a country dish to feed farmers. You can put chicken or pork in it, with onion, parsley, May peas and peppers.”

Other universities make their own variations of the cassoulet.

“A big dish is our white bean cassoulet, which is served warm, done in vegetable stock with roasted portobello mushrooms and an assortment of other roasted vegetables,” says Janna Traver, executive chef and assistant director of Dining Services at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.