Bean cuisine wins fans on campus

From Bush Brothers.

Meeting the demand for healthy meals while coping with picky palates and rising food costs is no small feat for college and university foodservice directors. One of the ways they manage is by menuing beans in tasty and good-for-you applications, often in an ethnic or comfort-food style.

"Beans are eaten quite well here," says Cynthia Lategan, senior executive chef at 26,500-student Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

Her bean complement includes black, pinto, kidney, garbanzo, Great Northern, navy and red beans. They star in everything from Cajun-style red beans simmered with ham hocks and andouille sausage to black bean, corn and millet salad featuring organic millet grown on a nearby farm.

Also in the menu mix are quinoa, tabbouleh and white-bean hummus wraps, Caribbean black bean and mango dip and black bean and corn chili with Fritos. Two kinds of falafel appear, one made with the traditional chickpeas, the other with black beans. In addition, beans are a popular meat alternative at the Mongolian Grill station in the dining hall, where both vegetarians and carnivores flock for stir fries, Lategan says.

Fond of the flavors, textures and versatility of beans, Lategan is a proponent of bean cuisine that pleases a wide audience, not just vegetarians and habitual healthy eaters. "I think it is important that these dishes appeal to everybody," Lategan says.

She is working with a food that is high in protein, complex carbohydrates and dietary fiber. Beans are also cholesterol free, virtually devoid of fat and rich in potassium, magnesium, folate and iron. Credentials like those have helped make beans a staple of cultures around the globe and an increasing choice for Americans seeking new dining experiences that are exciting as well as nutritious.

Most of the beans at CSU are canned, for consistency and labor reduction. "I think the cans are very good," says Lategan. "There are definitely issues when you cook beans from dry. Sometimes it seems like they never get tender."

Although some C&U dining halls are offering smaller meat portions to manage rising costs, that is not the case in Fort Collins.

"We have not reduced meat portions," says Lategan. "But we have always had a very strong presence of vegetarian and vegan foods and tried to make them interesting to everyone. So in that sort of back-door way, I guess I am hoping to cut down on the consumption of the expensive proteins."

Another chef capitalizing on the appeal of beans is Peter Fischbach, regional director of culinary development for Gourmet Dining at the 8,900-student New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. Known for his frequent international cuisine promotions, Fischbach menus channa masala, a North Indian-style meatless chickpea stew with a medium spice profile, served with rice.

"Indian food is generally very healthy because there are a lot of veggies and quite a bit of mung beans and kidney beans," says Fischbach. He likes to balance the lively spices in Indian fare with cooling yogurt, mint and cilantro.

In addition to satisfying the large Indian student contingent at NJIT, channa masala has also won over members of the general population seeking a good-for-you meal that is out of the ordinary.

"They enjoy it as a break from the everyday food," says Fischbach. "You are getting good, clean flavors and something that is exotic, but not too exotic."