Secrets of cooking with beans

Cooking with Dried Beans

Beans are a misunderstood and maligned food. They are perfectly wonderful once you know how to cook with them. Although they take a long time to cook, they require very little attention, which means they actually take very little of your time. The variety of dried beans is astonishing with dozens from which to choose. Some are strongly associated with various ethnic cuisines, such as pinto and black beans with Mexican food and lentils and garbanzo beans with Indian cuisine. Many can simply be cooked with a few spices and a little salt for a very easy dinner. Others can be added to soups, such as chili and minestrone. Beans can be used for lunches or dinners, as a side dish, main dish, or snack.

Although a can of beans seems to be cheap enough, usually costing a dollar or less, you can save about 75 percent if you cook dried beans. To make life even more convenient, cook large amounts of beans and then freeze them for quick meals later. And cooking beans is an easy process – just the instructions below.

Cooking Dried Beans

  1. Pour the desired amount (based on the recipe or how you plan to use them) onto a flat surface and sort through the beans to make sure there are no little dirt clods or stones that passed through the harvesting equipment.
  2.  Rinse the beans in a colander. Put them in a pot.
  3.  Cover the beans with water and add the same amount of water so that if the beans are two inches deep in the pot, you’ll have four inches of water in the pot.
  4. To save time and money, buy beans in bulk and cook as many as you can at one time. Using your largest pot, fill it one-third full of beans, then two-thirds full of water.
  5.  Soak the beans as needed. While the larger beans, such as kidney and garbanzo beans, need to be soaked overnight to shorten the cooking time, smaller legumes, such as split peas and lentils, can be cooked in less than an hour without soaking.
  6. If the beans require soaking, you can soak them overnight, or if you need them sooner, bring the water to a boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let the beans sit in the hot water for two or three hours.
  7. Cook the beans in enough water to cover them by two inches. You may need to add water if the level has dropped during soaking. Cook covered over a low heat until done. If your stove burner cannot be turned down low enough to keep the pot from boiling over, you may need to tip the lid to let steam escape.

Cooking times for beans will depend on a few factors. The larger the bean, the longer it takes to cook. Smaller beans, such as pintos or black beans, will only take one or two hours to cook. Larger beans, like kidneys and garbanzos, may take closer to three hours. The older the beans, the more they have dried out and the longer they will take to cook. Beans will also take more time to cook in hard water or when salt or tomato sauce is added to the pot before the beans are cooked.

Cook beans in large quantities and store them in the freezer in various sized containers, based upon their intended use. For example, I store pinto beans, which will be used in burritos or my Tamale Pie recipe, in four-cup containers. I store cooked white and red beans for making spreads in two-cup containers. When I’m planning to use black beans in a Mexican bean casserole, I store them in a seven-cup container.

This is a excerpt from Ecothrifty: Cheaper, Greener Choices for a Happier Healthier Life by Deborah Niemann.

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