I placed the smallest one from my stacking mixing bowl set next to my healthy instant cup of tortilla soup. It was called that, even though black beans were the first listed ingredient, brown rice the second and tortillas the last — even behind spices. I strategically positioned the tiny bowl, which fits about 2 tablespoons of food, so that I could spoon the beans in there before I sipped the soup.
Some people love everything about beans, especially the fact that they've been shown to be such an exceptionally healthful contributor of protein and fiber. I, too, was interested in the 9 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber this lunch soup had to offer. However, I don't like the chalky texture of beans and try to eat them in other forms.
That day I had been planning, after placing them in my little bowl, to do a quick blending of the cooked ones and spread on baked zucchini slices I was having as a side dish.
After I added the boiling water to the paper cup's fill line, stirred and waited the allotted time, I decided to rewarm the soup, covered, for 40 seconds in the microwave. This ended up making my waiting bowl obsolete. After I stirred and began eating, I thought, "Where are the black beans?" picturing the plump ones I saw on the photo of the prepared soup on the package.
Fortunately, this now essential step of reheating caused the partial skins only to be what was visible of the beans and they were similarly sized and perfectly mixed with the shreds of chili peppers and brown rice kernels in the broth. The remainder of each bean, due to the extra heat, had become part of the broth. I loved it.
If bean texture is not one of your favorite foods, consider that broth rewarming trick, and here are a few other ideas I've enjoyed for alternatives. All ingredients are to taste.
SPREAD THE WEALTH
Place your favorite cooked beans, vegetables and spices in a blender with a small amount of extra-virgin olive oil. Blend completely. Taste and adjust spices, if desired. To serve, spread on whole-grain crackers and inside celery stalks.
GIVE A TOAST TO THESE TOSTADAS
Cook pinto beans, mash well and spread within a large crisp corn tortilla salad bowl or along the bottom of a flat corn tortilla crisp shell. This leaves out the lard and frying of often-used refried beans. Top with your other favorite tostada ingredients, such as shredded cooked chicken, salsa, lettuce, tomatoes, pitted black olives and guacamole.
Buy falafel mix (made from chickpeas/garbanzo beans and available in the ethnic aisles of many supermarkets), prepare according to package instructions, but bake falafel balls rather than frying. Serve alongside vegetable-filled omelets as a fiber- and protein-packed spiced alternative to potatoes.
EARNING BROWNIE POINTS
Substitute half of the flour in your favorite brownie recipe with cooked, pureed black beans, or search online for black bean brownie recipes or vegan restaurants or bakeries that sell them.
AFTER-WORK GOURMET COOKBOOK SHELF
Does the thought of vegan food make you uncomfortable? For some, considering going well beyond vegetarianism into full-fledged rejection of any animal-based ingredient (such as the eggs or dairy that many vegetarians eat), does bring a tinge of discomfort. Lauren Toyota, a vegan blogger and YouTube star who used to be a popular MTV host in Canada, aims for the opposite: vegan comfort food. She's gone so far as to call hers "Vegan Comfort Classics." The "irreverent" cookbook includes showstoppers like "nacho" cheese made from carrots and potatoes that you could use to drape her crispy "loaded" French fries. Everything from gooey cakes to decadent brunches to share with friends make up her tempting world.
Lisa Messinger is a first-place winner in food writing from the Association of Food Journalists and the author of seven food books, including "Mrs. Cubbison's Best Stuffing Cookbook" and "The Sourdough Bread Bowl Cookbook." To find out more about Lisa Messinger and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.