Monday, December 17, 2012
3 Fool-Proof Ways to Cook Dried Beans
Cold weather in our area means lots of soups and stews featuring pintos, black, limas, garbanzos, navy and great northern beans. Yep, lots of beans. But having incorporated lots of these protein rich gems into our diet, I had to rethink the can and visit the world of dried beans. After all, when you cook your own beans, they are much more economical AND you control the amount of sodium that is in them. I tend to use a light salt (half salt and half potassium) to control the amount of sodium. You have no choice when buying the canned beans.
But how do you cook them so they are firm and meaty, not mushy or too crunchy? A great question, and one I'm here to talk about. I love cooking dried beans and once you master a few basic methods and understand how they cook, it's easy to produce large amounts of beans to cook with and extra to freeze. Remember, lentils and split peas have short cooking times and don't require pre-soaking, so this post will be about pintos, black and large limas.
Let's start with a few dried bean basics. First of all, make sure to rinse your beans well and sort through them. I have actually found bits of debris that I would NOT want to eat so you won't want to skip this step!.The actual cooking part it pretty easy and I've found three foolproof ways to cook them that work well and which one you choose depends on how much time you have, what equipment you own and how much you want to make. They all work well and have their advantages. So I encourage you to try the easiest one for you.
#1 Long-soaking Method Stovetop: This involves thinking ahead so you'll want to clean your beans and then measure out how many cups of beans you'll be needing. You will get about 3 cups of cooked beans from 1 cup of dried. When cooking beans this way, it makes sense to cook a large batch. Some to use now and some to freeze for later as they freeze quite well. The larger the beans (like the large limas) will require longer soaking times. Large lima beans can soak for up to 24 hours. When soaking for extended amount of time, make sure to change the water several times so it doesn't ferment. Adding a tsp of salt per pound of beans to the soaking water will help the skins hold their shape and promote more even cooking. By soaking the beans ahead of time, it will cut the cooking time, ensure even cooking and helps to remove indigestible "oligosaccharides" which are gas producing. I usually do this the night before and drain the beans in the morning and put in a non-reactive aluminum pan. Cover with water so it's an inch above the beans. DO NOT add salt OR tomato sauce OR vinegar at this time. This will inhibit the beans from absorbing the much needed water. You CAN add a variety of herbs at this time though. I like to add a mix of sage, rosemary and thyme. If you have the herb savory, this also tastes pretty great. If definitely gives the beans more flavor. Boil the beans for the first 10 minutes and then turn down the heat to simmer. This can take 1-2 hours. I find that it actually takes an average of an hour and a half. Add any acidic ingredients only AFTER the beans are almost tender. Stir the beans gently with a wooden spoon to prevent the beans from breaking apart. Make sure they are always covered with water as well. You can salt the beans halfway through the cooking time, their skins should be soft enough to absorb the salt. Allow the beans to cool at least partially in their cooking liquid before draining them.
I like this method when I need to make lots of beans as I can use a large pan for them.
#2 Using a Slow Cooker: Where would we be without one of these most practical kitchen appliances? Cooking dried beans in them is another great use for this Americana classic. Follow the long soaking or quick soak method* and cook your beans on low heat overnight or all day. If you're at work, you will come home to some great cooked beans ready to use. My crockpot gets really hot on the low setting, so my beans are done much sooner. You'll want to experiment a bit with your cooker to know how long it takes to cook. I just check them periodically to see how close they are to being done. You can only make as many beans as your slow cooker can hold, so this method is good for small to medium sized batches..
#3 Using a Pressure Cooker: This is by far and away my most favorite way to quick cook beans. How to cook your beans will depend upon your cookers instructions, but here are a few pluses. You can use a *quick soak method by putting your beans in a saucepan, bring it to a boil for about 2 minutes and then remove from heat, cover and let sit for an hour. Make sure to drain and rinse beans before final cooking. I have an electric pressure cooker that I use primarily for beans. I tend to cook my beans in less time then is suggested in the pressure cooker guide. I'll be putting the beans in chili or soup, so if they aren't quite done they can finish cooking there. I would rather under-cook the beans just a tad than to overcook them and see them turn to mush. With my electric pressure cooker, I don't even have to pre-soak the beans at all. This is invaluable when I want to make dinner and make it fast! This makes the smallest amount of beans for me, so I use this method when I'm in a hurry.
The Five Bean Test: Use this test when cooking on the stove or in the crockpot. I saw this little tip on a Food Network show and it's great. Since the beans don't always cook at the same rate, take your wooden spoon and gather 5 beans from different places in the pot. Blow on the beans and if the skin wrinkles on all the beans, then they are usually done. You'll also want to eat them to make sure they're not chewy.
Add-ins: Remember, in order to give your beans great flavor, try adding herbs (be creative), onion, garlic for a vegetarian option. You can also use pork ribs, smoked pig's feet, bacon, and those leftover ham bones from Christmas or Easter. I generally only season beans with meat when they'll be in a non-chili dish. Otherwise, I use tomatoes and greens to give them great flavor.
Well, that's the scoop. There are a few more ways to cook beans, especially if you're making Boston Baked Beans and the like. But this will get you started on the successful road to making great cooked beans every time.
One more tip: I freeze my extra beans in a quart bag for one recipe of chili. Make sure to use your cooking water as well. It has nutrients in it as well and I often add it to our chilis. I usually freeze the water in with the beans and they turn out well. I often use 3 cups of beans for one batch of chili or soup.
Hope this helps! For a great book all about dried legumes...check out "Beans" by Aliza Green. I found it at our local library and bought a used copy on Amazon. It has some great general cooking info as well as lots of recipes!
What's your favorite way to cook dried beans?
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