Beans, beans, they're good for your heart, the more you eat 'em the ... well, we all know how the saying goes. But there's more to these little legumes than their unpleasant side-effects as beans hold a bounty of health promoting properties. It's no surprise that beans are loaded with fiber. But they are also a great source of protein and many vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium and magnesium. They are a heart-healthy food, helping to reduce heart disease, blood pressure and cholesterol. And beans are surprisingly high in antioxidants.

Beans are an inexpensive protein source and incredibly versatile in the kitchen. Here are four simple and delicious recipes to help you incorporate more into your diet.

White Bean & Escarole Soup

You'll need 2 leeks, 2 minced garlic cloves, 3 to 4 thin slices of pancetta, 32 ounces of chicken broth, 1 large can of cannellini beans (drained), 1 head of escarole. Dice the pancetta and sauté in a tablespoon of olive oil until it has rendered (about 3-5 minutes). Thinly slice the white and light green bottoms of the leeks and wash thoroughly. Add to the pancetta and sauté until tender. Stir in garlic and escarole and cook until the escarole begins to wilt, then add beans and broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4-6.

"Cream"ed Spinach

You'll need 1 diced onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, 18 ounces of baby spinach, ½ cup of chicken broth, 1 small can of white beans (drained). Sauté the onion and garlic in a little olive oil until tender. Add the spinach, beans, and broth. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the spinach is completely wilted. Transfer the spinach and bean combo to a food processor and puree until smooth or desired texture is reached. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serves 4-6.

Kale & Cannellini

Stuffed Portobellos

You'll need 4 portobello mushroom caps, 1 bunch of kale (chopped), 1 small can of cannellini beans (drained), 1 diced tomato, 1 minced garlic clove, 1 cup of shredded gruyere cheese, ½ cup chopped parsley, ½ cup panko bread crumbs. Preheat oven to 375˚. De-stem the portobellos and scrape out the gills with a spoon. Place them in a baking pan, drizzle with olive oil, season lightly with salt & pepper, and roast for 7-10 minutes. Meanwhile, steam the kale in salted boiling water until tender then drain well. In a bowl, combine the kale, beans, tomato, garlic, parsley and ¾ cup gruyere. Mix well, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Remove mushroom caps and top with the kale and cannellini bean mixture. Combine the panko crumbs and remaining ¼ cup cheese. Top each stuffed mushroom with a little panko cheese mixture, drizzle with olive oil, then pop back in the oven for another 5-7 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Serves 4.

Black Bean Soup

You'll need 1 diced carrot, 1 small diced onion, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 diced celery stalk, 1 large can of black beans (drained), 32 ounces of chicken broth, 2 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp paprika, 1 tbsp dried oregano. In a medium sauce pan heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Add the diced veggies and sauté for 2-3 minutes until they begin to soften. Add in the black beans, broth and spices. Give it a stir, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 20-30 minutes. You can leave the soup as is, or puree it for a smoother texture. Serves 4-6.

Jennifer Spaide received her master's degree in human nutrition from Columbia University. She is a personal chef, freelance writer and nutrition consultant. As founder of GreenChic, she is dedicated to inspiring individuals to lead lives that are healthy, fresh and fun. Visit www.the

greenchiclife.com to learn more.