Are canned beans as good as dried beans?

A recent online special guest was Maureen Quinn, winner of our annual Washington Post Sous-Chef Challenge. (This year's competition: Battle Asparagus.) Here are edited excerpts from that ochat.

Q. Do canned beans provide the same nutrition and flavor as dried beans? I like to add different varieties of beans to my salads. I have never soaked dried beans. Am I missing something?


A basic USDA-based nutritional analysis of no-salt-added black beans vs. no-salt-added boiled-from-dry beans reveals that 1/2 cup of canned beans has 1 gram of fat while 1/2 cup of cooked-from-dry beans has 0 grams of fat.

The other major difference is the sodium; even though the canned beans don't have salt added, the analysis still shows 15 milligram of sodium per 1/2 cup of beans vs. 1 mg of sodium for the 1/2 cup of cooked-from-dry beans).

I think cooking your own beans results in flavor that's far superior to that of canned beans (and typically, it's less expensive to cook your own). You're able to add salt at will, you can add any number of flavor boosters (onions, peppers, citrus peels, etc.) and you're guaranteed not to have that off, tinny flavor that you sometimes get from canned beans.

As for the soaking, it does speed up the process of cooking most beans, but there are ways around that; using a pressure cooker, for one, or a quick-soak method.

- Kara Elder

Q. How can I use the ends that I snap off asparagus?

A. The very ends of asparagus, especially of larger stalks, are usually too tough and fibrous to use for much. You can add them to stock - vegetable, chicken - but I wouldn't add too much, and add toward the end of the cooking time. Otherwise, you can try cooking them down with vegetable or chicken stock and puree to make a soup. The tougher the ends, the longer they will need to cook.

- Maureen Quinn

Q. How long can you keep anchovies after the tin has been opened?

A. Those anchovies have been cured and packed in oil and should last quite a long time (up to a year or so). But they will keep better if you cover them in oil. Some kind of Tupperware or a sealable pint container is probably a better bet for storage.

- M.Q.

Q. What about salt-packed anchovies? The only advice I've ever seen is that they'll keep "indefinitely." But do you drain any juices that collect and re-pack the anchovies in salt, or just leave them be?

A. I'd still re-pack salt-cured anchovies in oil; it'll keep them from drying out if they sit in your fridge for a long time, and it'll probably make them a little easier to work with. Those juices that collect are moisture from the fish that leaches out as they continue to sit in salt. So anchovies kept in oil will stay hydrated and plump longer.

- M.Q.