Q: Over the winter I started including bean-based dishes in meals more often, but what can I do with beans in warm weather beyond endless bowls of three-bean salad?
A: You’ve found a great way to expand your plant foods repertoire with bean dishes. Dried beans – kidney, black, navy, garbanzo and many more – offer great nutrition at a low price and are flexible enough to include in a wide variety of dishes. Perhaps during cold weather you enjoyed them in casseroles and hearty soups and chili, but beans are great additions to warm weather meals, too. First, expand your vision of bean salads. Combine beans with tomatoes, peppers and other ingredients as you create salads flavored in Greek (with olives and lemon-based dressing), Mexican or Cajun style, for example. Pasta salads can be delicious with beans added; or if you’ve already got whole grains elsewhere in your meal, take your favorite pasta salad and swap out the pasta, using beans instead. You’ll have a high-fiber dish with flavors you already love, and with enough beans, you’ll transform it into an easy main dish. Don’t rule out soups simply because of warm weather: light summer soups that highlight seasonal produce can become a main dish with the addition of beans. Beyond those staples, make hummus-like dips for vegetables and sandwich spreads by blenderizing black beans and garbanzo beans with flavors of your choice (I like to go heavy on garlic). Burritos are a natural place to enjoy beans instead of meat, mixed with meat or as an additional option. In short, there are just as many great ways to enjoy beans in warm weather as in cooler months. Have fun thinking “outside the box!”