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January 23, 1986|BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

A big pot of beans and cooler weather just seem to go together. Spice beans with chiles or chili powder and serve them with your favorite barbecued ribs. Or simmer them for hours with a brisket in beer. Or combine them with vegetables in a gutsy, stick-to-your-ribs soup that's guaranteed to satisfy the sturdiest of appetites. But be picky. Choose the right bean for the right dish.

There's no such thing as a quick dry bean dish . . . unless you open a can. But if it's easy cooking you're looking for, beans should be high on your list of choices as a basic ingredient.

Beans frequently are given a truly undeserved bum rap. Maybe they're just too earthy for today's ambiance-oriented society, as it's difficult to design a "food painting" on a plate with a batch of beans. Or maybe they're overlooked because of their reputation for causing slight digestive problems with some people. Newer preparation methods largely have managed to overcome beans' tendency to create gas in the digestive tract, however, so maybe it's time to give old-fashioned bean dishes another try.

Probably the best reason for including beans in the diet is the nutritional wallop they pack for the price. Dry beans contain a goodly amount of quality vegetable protein. While they lack methionine, one of the amino acids necessary to make complete protein, combining them with a compatible non-meat food that does contain this amino acid, such as corn or rice, will provide the body with a complete meatless protein. Meat or dairy products such as cheese or eggs also are good sources of the missing amino acid.

Beyond the vegetable protein they provide, dry beans also contain a number of essential minerals such as iron, calcium and potassium. They're a good source of fiber, high in carbohydrate content, low in fat and have no cholesterol. All of which means dry beans should be given serious consideration when it comes to menu planning on the part of those looking for a good low cost nutritional package.

Although it does take time to prepare dry beans from scratch, they still can be a perfect choice for the cook in a hurry. And talk about easy! After all, just how difficult is it to dump a package of beans in a big pot of water?

The problem with most cooks in a rush to get dinner on the table is lack of planning. You need to pick a night you know you'd like to have a bean casserole for dinner and then start your preparation the night before.

When you start your kitchen cleanup after dinner, fill a big kettle with water, add the beans and set them aside to soak overnight. Or if you'd rather, do it in the morning before you go to work and let them sit all day.

The general rule of thumb is that you'll need about six cups of cold water to one pound of dry beans for this type of soaking. The beans will expand about 2 1/2 times, so be sure the pot is large enough to hold the amount you choose to use.

A quicker soaking method that has become popular is to use hot water rather than cold and to bring the beans to a boil, let them boil 3 minutes, cover them and set them aside for one hour to steep.

In either case, before continuing with whatever recipe you have chosen, drain and rinse the beans before proceeding. Getting rid of the soaking water will help alleviate possible adverse digestive reaction and it also improves flavor, texture and appearance in the cooked beans, according to dry bean industry sources.

Dry beans and slow cookers with their predictable temperature controls seem made for each other, although it's almost as easy to let a pot of beans simmer away on the back of the range. You just have to watch the pot on the stove a little more closely. Depending on the type of beans you use and the recipe you want to prepare, the actual cooking time can run anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to four or more hours.

However, most bean dishes are almost better when reheated, so if you can't spare the time during the day, cook the beans the night before and reheat them at serving time the next day. Most bean casseroles freeze well, too, so consider fixing enough beans at one time to provide you with a standby casserole in the freezer. It's wonderful to have something like a sturdy beans and brisket combination on tap in the freezer for one of those nights when you're running late or the weather has turned cold and dank. A quick zap in the microwave will produce a wonderful effortless feast.

The following recipes show the superb versatility of the different varieties of dry beans readily available at your supermarket. MARINATED GARBANZO SALAD

1 pound dry garbanzo beans

2 red peppers

2 green peppers

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup oil

1/2 cup rice vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1 red onion, thinly sliced

2 stalks celery, sliced

1/2 cup cilantro leaves, minced

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt, pepper

Crisp lettuce

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