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‘B’ makes for a beautiful bounty

January 13, 2009
by Mary Ann Menendez - Staff Writer

In some of life's instances, the letter "B" stands for second rate.

However, this is not the case with some foods beginning with the second letter of the alphabet that are colorful, taste good and are good for us.

Today the culinary spotlight focuses on Bananas, Beans, Blackberries and Black Walnuts.

The interesting thing about today's choices is they are all plucked from a plant or tree. In other words, botanical in nature and another "B" word.

Each is packed with its unique set of healthy nutrients that will appeal to the Recommended Daily Allowance for various vitamins and minerals.

The banana is probably the first fruit offered to infants as it is plentiful all year long, easily mashed and ready to serve. It grows in hanging clusters with about 20 bananas to a tier. There is anywhere from three to 20 tiers to a bunch. While Americans tend to throw away the skin, many cultures include the fruit and skin in their cooking. Bananas are a valuable source of vitamin B6, vitamin C and potassium.

Because it is a peel-and-eat fruit, the banana is an easy choice for lunch boxes and on-the-go snack.

A medium-sized banana has 200 calories with just 1 gram of total fat and zero grams of saturated fat. There is no cholesterol and just 2 mg. of sodium. It contains 51 grams of carbohydrates, 46 milligrams of potassium, 6 grams of dietary fiber and 2 grams of protein. Sugars are the highest number on the nutrition label at 28 grams.

The banana offers 3 percent of Vitamin A, 33 percent of Vitamin C and 3 percent of iron.

Banana-Berry Parfait

2 medium ripe bananas, peeled and cut into small pieces

1 1/2 cups plain low-fat yogurt

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 cup fresh or frozen (no sugar added) raspberries

In a food processor or blender, combine the bananas, yogurt, brown sugar and orange juice. Process mixture until smooth. Spoon some of the banana mixture into each of 4 parfait glasses or stemmed goblets. Top each with 1 tablespoon raspberries. Continue to layer yogurt and berries, ending with yogurt. Chill in refrigerator until time to serve.

They could be black beauties hanging on the vine, full of sweetness and goodness.

Just one cup of blackberries holds 50 percent of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C. At just 62 calories per the one-cup serving, blackberries are low in fat. Absent are cholesterol and sodium. There's 233 mg of potassium and 7.6 grams of dietary fiber. Each serving also includes 2 percent of protein, 8 percent of Vitamin E and 36 percent of Vitamin K.

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin. It helps the body make proteins that are needed for normal blood clotting. Vitamin K also is needed for making important bone proteins. There is also 12 percent of copper, 47 percent manganese and a splattering of the other necessary vitamins and minerals needed every day.

Green Salad and Blackberry Dressing

8 cups romaine lettuce

1 teaspoon garlic, crushed

3/4 cup fresh or frozen blackberries which have been thawed

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

4 tablespoons honey

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

Place all ingredients except the lettuce into a blender or food processor and blend well. Transfer dressing into a glass bottle and refrigerate. Just before serving, pour dressing over salad greens in a large bowl. Toss until the greens receive a light coat of dressing.

A nut by any other name would not be as special as the black walnut. According to Christopher Beecher, associate professor of pharmacognosy in the department of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy at the University of Illinois, nothing grows under a black walnut tree and there's good reason. "It contains a chemical that kills anything that it comes into contact with. While this may be depressing news for dandelions, it's positive news for people concerned about a variety of health conditions ranging from poison ivy to cancer -- the hull, inner bark and leaves of this amazing nut may be just the answer they've been hoping."

Called the imperial nut by early Greeks and Romans, today it's other name is English walnut. The black walnut is considered to be an antiseptic, a germicide, a parasitic and a laxative. This nut helps rid the body of intestinal parasites and tapeworms and has been known to reduce constipation and heal skin conditions like acne, canker sores, psoriasis, and other fungal infections.

Crispy Black Walnut Chicken

4 boneless chicken breasts without skin

2 cups black walnuts, chopped fine

One-fourth cup flour

One-half cup peach preserves

3 tablespoons honey

1 tablespoon mustard

1 cup chicken stock

1 tablespoon cornstarch

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Trim the chicken breasts and pound out evenly. Then mix the preserves, honey and one-quarter cup of the chicken stock in a bowl. In another bowl, take the flour and finely chopped walnuts and mix together. Then dip the chicken breasts in the peach mixture and drain slightly. Roll the breasts in the walnut mixture and pat down. Place onto a cooking sheet and place in the oven for 20-25 minutes.

To make the sauce: put the peach mixture in a small pan. Then add the cornstarch to the remaining chicken stock and mix. Add the chicken stock to the peach mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Season the pieces with salt and pepper, to taste. Remove the chicken from the oven and plate. Take the sauce and spoon it across the chicken breast before serving.

The choice is strictly up to the cook because the bean selection includes red, black, kidney, great northern, pinto, cranberry, lima, navy, pink, yellow, cannellini, black-eyed pea, lentil, soybean, garbanzo and probably a whole host of others I have not had the pleasure of keeping on my shelf.

The bean, while a common staple through the centuries, is a small morsel that packs a mighty punch nutritionally. All beans are a rich source of protein, fiber and lysin, a vital amino acid. Beans also offer folacin and some minerals.

The high fiber gives some protection against diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancer. The bean has the ability to stabilize blood sugars, reduces the bad cholesterol and is good for the heart.

One tidbit that most of us may not know is these beans fall under the "meat" category of the food pyramid. It is recommended we have two to three servings out of the meat sector daily. For your information, one-half cup of beans is considered a serving.

Some suggestions for bean uses include:

n Navy - excellent in soups, stews, Boston Baked Beans, great pureed.

n Kidney - often used in chili, three-bean salads.

n Pinto - refried in stews, dips, many Tex-Mex dishes.

n Great northern - excellent in soups, stews.

n Garbanzo - excellent in salads, humus.

n Lentil - excellent in soups and stews.

Black and Red Dish

1 (16-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed, or two-thirds cup dry black beans

1 (16-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed, or two-thirds cup dry dark red kidney beans

1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced

1/2 cup onions, chopped

1/2 cup green bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup red bell pepper, chopped

1/2 cup celery chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 cups water

1 (14-1/2-ounce) can stewed tomatoes, undrained, chopped up

1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce

1 cup frozen corn

1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 cup long-cooking rice, uncooked

If using dry beans, soak in 4 cups of water for up to 8 hours (or overnight in the refrigerator.) Drain and rinse. Combine with 4 cups of fresh water and simmer for 1-1/2 to 2 hours or until tender. Drain. Coat large skillet with olive oil. Saut mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic. Combine with remaining ingredients and pour into a 9-x-13-inch baking dish. Cover and bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees.

Scandinavian Beans

and Rice Stew

2 cups cooked navy or kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup cooked long-grain rice, no salt added

2 tablespoons lemon juice

4 tablespoons minced fresh dill (or 1 tablespoon dry dill)

Pepper to taste

Place rice, beans, lemon juice and 2 cups water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in dill and season to taste with pepper.



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