Mixed Bean Chili and Brown Rice is not only a healthy meal, taking advantage of high fiber, low-fat beans, but is also economical and filling. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe) - AP

HEALTHY plate —Mixed Bean Chili Over Brown Rice

When it comes to healthy eating on a budget, beans are a dream food.

They are rich in nutrients, dietary fiber and protein, they are filling and low in fat, and they are inexpensive and easy to keep on hand. Even better, most grocers stock an impressive variety.

Dried beans are the least-expensive option. But cooking them, while easy, can be a lengthy hassle.

Luckily, canned beans aren't much more expensive. Just be sure to drain and rinse them under cool water. This removes excess sodium added during canning, and washes away the muddy flavor of the liquid.

Beans likely are to show up in multiple spots at the grocer. Alongside canned vegetables you will find kidney beans (red and white), Great Northern beans, chickpeas (garbanzo beans), pinto beans, black beans and butter beans.

With the Hispanic foods you'll find many of the same varieties, plus pink beans, black-eyed peas, field peas and pigeon beans, which have a good, pungent flavor, but a somewhat mealy texture.

Some markets also carry the Mediterranean favorites — fava and lupini beans.

Beans can be used in many ways. Puree them with some oil and herbs to make quick dips and spreads; add them to soups and stews; or sprinkle them over a salad to transform it into a more substantial meal.

This hearty recipe for mixed bean chili and brown rice is made with black beans and creamy, white Great Northern beans. It is seasoned with chili powder, cumin, oregano and allspice, and gets a bit of heat from a jalapeno pepper.

A tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa adds depth to the flavors and an almost imperceptible hint of chocolate.

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