Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Cooking Dry Beans 101

Clockwise from left: Hidatsa Shield Figure, Good Mother Stallard, Hutterite Soup, Tiger's Eye

Why cook your own beans rather than buying them in a can? Let me count the "whys": flavor, texture, and variety. Once you taste beans the way they are meant to be eaten, you'll realize that canned beans are waterlogged and over-salted to make up for lack of flavor. And the types of beans available in a can are limited. So don't miss out on a whole world of culinary exploration, and get in the habit of cooking beans and enjoying the many types available for your eating pleasure. Who knows, you may end up growing your own too, as I do (see photo below).

 Simple cooking method for dry beans:
I recommend you start with a cup of dry beans to get a feel for cooking them.

1. Wash the beans with cold water and examine them to make sure there are no stones or other debris.

2. Soak beans overnight in plenty of water at room temperature (you want them to remain covered even after they double in size)
Quick soak: put beans in a pot (preferably a heavy pot for better heat distribution) with about 2 inches of water over the beans, bring them to a boil then turn off the heat. Cover with the lid and let them soak for 1-3 hours.

3. To cook, drain the soaking water, add fresh water to cover the beans by an inch or two. I like to add a bay leaf to lightly flavor the water. Bring them to a boil then turn down the heat to a simmer. Note: do NOT add salt at this point. Salt will cause the beans to be tough and take a very long time to cook (or so it's believed).

Italian Butter beans with fresh tarragon and asparagus
4. Check the water level in half an hour. You want the beans to be covered at all times or they won't cook evenly. Cooking time can vary from only an hour for fresh beans, or up to 2 hours for older beans. After an hour check to see if the beans are tender or need more cooking time, and make sure there is enough water in the pot to cover the beans (if not add some and bring it back to a simmer).

4. When the beans are beginning to get tender add salt. The beans will absorb the salt from the cooking water. When they are tender and have the texture you want, they are ready to eat or use in a recipe. You can let them cool and store them in the refrigerator in their cooking water, or drain them and toss in a bit of olive oil so that they don't dry out.

The age of the beans:  Steve Sando of Rancho Gordo, points out in his lovely book on cooking with heirloom beans that the bags of beans on your grocery store shelf might be a couple of years old or more. The age of the beans will dictate how long they take to cook. Old beans take longer. Beans from a quality supplier, such as Rancho Gordo, or your local farmer's market vendor are sold within a year of being grown. Indeed, these beans are so fresh that I've planted and grown and eaten several varieties of them!

Here is something delicious to make with your fresh pot of beans: my recipe for gigante beans with salsa verde- enjoy!

Photos: Urban Artichoke

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