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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 beansYep, 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?

Shared with these amazing blog parties: Backyard Farming Connection
Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways  
Full Plate Thursdays 
Small Footprint Friday 
Farmgirl Friday 
Waste Not, Want Not Wednesdays 

22 comments:

  1. Having grown up in Texas, you would think I would have this down, but they come out different every time. I'm going to try it your way. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. It can be tricky, but I've fixed beans all different ways now and if you follow the basics they usually turn out well. Hope yours work out too! :)

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  2. Hi Nancy! Hopped over from somewhere and see that you live on Lake Erie. Are you in Cleveland? We've been up here for 3 years almost and have found it enjoyable. Hope to get back to Kansas City sometime, but for now Ohio has treated us well. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

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    1. Hi Sarah, we live an hour east of Cleveland but my husband works out of Brunswick and Middleburg so we go there quite often. Glad you like the area...I love living along the lake and having so many great parks, rivers and natural areas around. It's great having a major city nearby as well. Thanks for commenting and happy holidays to you all as well! :)

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  3. Awesome tips! I have been cooking them on the stovetop, but my last few batches have been pretty mushy. I think I'm going to try my slow cooker next time and see how that works out.

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    1. Hope they help. Mushy beans are much easier to happen to me as well. I think I'll add the salt to the water when I soak them overnight. I think the soaking times can affect the cooking times. Hope the slow cooker works for you too... :)

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  4. O my gosh totally needed this! I gave up on dried beans because I couldn't get them to not be tough! Thanks for sharing this! Just started following you!

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    1. Great! Hope they turn out well for you next time then. Let me know if you have any questions too! Thanks for following!

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  5. The dried beans look like very delicious. Wishing you a wonderful Christmas season.

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    1. Thanks so much...wishing you a great Christmas this year too! Blessings!

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  6. Hi Nancy,
    Great Post! Thank you so much for sharing with Full Plate Thursday and a very Merry Christmas to you and your family.
    Come Back Soon!
    Miz Helen

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    1. Thanks Helen. And a very happy Christmas to you and yours as well!! :)

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  7. This is really great information! I have never used a pressure cooker but maybe there is one in my future. Happy holidays!

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    1. Thanks. I love pressure cookers...I admit to owning 3 of them! :) Happy New Year to you!

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  8. Thanks for the tips! I need to use more beans in our meals, but I get so impatient for them to cook :) This helps a lot!
    I would love to have you visit my blog and vote for your favorite post on Wildcrafting Wednesdays People's Choice Awards! Next week we will be back to our regular blog hop, but you can find the poll here:
    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2012/12/peoples-choice-award-for-wildcrafting-wednesday.html

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    1. Thanks Lisa. I stopped by and voted...hope your awards post goes well!

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  9. These are great tips! I have been hesitant to take on soaking dried beans. It seems like a lot of prep work, but you make it seem very easy, especially if you can freeze the beans for later use! Thanks for sharing at Small Footprint Friday!

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    1. It's a bit of work, but like you said, if you make up a large quantity to freeze, it's worth it! Thanks for hosting your blog hop!

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  10. Cooking the beans in the pressure cooker sounds like the way to go--thanks for sharing!

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  11. Thanks so much for sharing these great tips on Waste Not Want Not Wednesday!

    I always do the stove top method - it enables me to do several kinds at once (usually black beans, one with kidney beans and one with chickpeas) and then freeze them in old yogurt containers (usually in 1.5 or 3 cup batches, the equivalent of a can of beans) and then freeze them all. Then I only need to repeat every couple of months :)

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    1. Sounds like a great idea. I use all three methods too as my pressure cooker can only cook one pound at a time. Freezing the beans is great too, thanks for sharing your tips! :)

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