The days still begin damp and cool, prompting serious cravings for hearty, soul-satisfying food. To me, any dish with beans, or even just beans themselves, fit that description.

Five Reasons to Love Dried Beans:

Flavor: In my opinion, beans — on their own or in a mixed dish — taste better when fresh, cooked from dry. Make sure you buy the beans from a reputable market, and always check for a valid expiration date. Beans of low-quality or those older than one year take much longer to cook, and taste may be compromised. Check out Rancho Gordo’s selection.

Ease: Cooking beans from their dry state is, to be honest, a no-brainer. Though they can take quite a while to prepare, the actual labor is minimal and mostly hands-off — you just need to plan ahead. Beans can soak overnight or while you’re at work, then boil while you prepare other portions of the meal.

Frugality: Canned beans (14 oz) cost you at least $0.79 each when not on sale. Dried beans on the other hand can be as little as $0.97 for a 1-lb (16 oz) bag, with each bag yielding approximately 8 c (64 oz) cooked beans. That’s almost 4 cans worth. So if we do the math, canned beans cost $0.05 per ounce, whereas dried beans cost $0.01 per ounce. Dried beans would be less than $0.25 “per can.”

Time-saving: Did you know you can freeze cooked beans? Cook up a big batch on the weekend, put into zipper-top freezer bags in 1, 2 or 3-c portions, and freeze to reduce cooking time at a later date.

Nutrition: Beans are naturally high in protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, B vitamins, iron and fiber. The B vitamin folate is not only good for the heart, but also extremely important to pregnant women for development of a healthy baby. One cup of cooked beans provides almost 50% of the daily iron recommendation for men, and 25% for women. Their high fiber content equates to slowed digestion, satisfying hunger and energy needs for long periods of time. Beans are low in fat, sodium, natural sugars and cholesterol. They’re considered a superfood for good reason!

In full disclosure canned beans are not a “bad” choice. They’re great in a pinch, especially for refried beans, dips and spreads. Just remember: always, always rinse the beans under cold water until the liquid runs clear — beans are canned with tons of sodium and preservatives.

The squirrel bread recipe index is a testament to my love of beans, particularly chickpeas. Oddly though, my favorite is the earthy pinto, and we eat them quite often, especially since we live in south Texas.

For you now I have this little number: A mingling of some favorite ingredients -– chickpeas, eggplant, garlic and homemade tomato sauce. Best served warm, nudged up next to Mujaddara and spiced yogurt or a hunk of crusty bread.

Eggplant Tomato Chickpea Stew [serves 4]

Printable recipe

1/2 c dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans)

1/8 t baking soda

2 small or 1 large eggplant, peeled and ends trimmed

1 medium red onion, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 t dried oregano

1/2 t dried basil

1-15 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, a couple tablespoons of the liquid reserved

1 t red wine vinegar

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

Pick over the beans, removing any broken beans, stones or other foreign matter. Rinse well and drain. Place beans in a large bowl and add cold water to cover by at least 2″ — discard any beans that float to the surface. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the beans sit out at room temperature for at least 4 hours and up to overnight. If your kitchen stays quite warm at all times, refrigerate the beans.

If you forget to soak or don’t have the time: Put the beans into a medium-sized saucepan and cover with 1 1/2 c cold water. Bring to a rolling boil and cook 2 minutes. Remove pan from the heat, cover, and let stand 1 hour before cooking.

After beans have finished soaking (overnight or the quick method), add enough additional water to cover the beans by 1″. Add 1/4 t salt and the baking soda (note: baking soda only needs to be added for chickpeas). Cover the pot, and simmer until the beans are tender. This can take as little as 1 1/2 hours or as long as 2 1/2 or even 3 hours, depending on the freshness and quality of your beans. Start checking for doneness at 1 1/2 hours, testing a couple beans, as cooking is sometimes uneven. When chickpeas are done, drain and set aside. (The entire chickpea cooking process can be completed 1 to 2 days ahead of time. Store cooked chickpeas in a sealed container in the refrigerator.)

In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 T extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant; cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, until well-browned. Lower the heat to medium and add onion and garlic; cook, stirring, until softened, about 6 minutes. Add oregano, basil, the whole tomatoes and reserved tomato liquid. Using your spoon, break the tomatoes in the pan (or you can squeeze them in the can with your hand; snip with a kitchen shears). Cook 5 minutes.

Add the cooked chickpeas and 1/2 c water; simmer until the eggplant is tender, about 12 minutes. Drizzle in the red wine vinegar, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray

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Other chickpea recipes to explore:

A simple dish of celery root, chickpeas and SarVecchio cheese is pulled together with a light mustard-thyme vinaigrette.

Another tosses chickpeas and wood-smoked salmon in an herby citrus dressing.

Feel compelled to offer something nutritious on Superbowl Sunday? Try our take on hummus en fuego, spiced with chipotle pepper flakes.

If you’re looking for something more exotic, I highly recommend Nigel Slater’s coconut-y chickpeas with pumpkin, lemongrass and coriander or Molly Wizenberg’s spice-laden channa masala.

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