Monday, October 24, 2011

The Mysterious Bean~ Part 1

Dried beans don't get a lot of love and I'm not sure why. They are nutritious, cheap and a wonderful source of nutrients including protein. Full of fiber they fill you up without slowing you down. They are versatile and can be added to many dishes that you already prepare. Soups, stews, many Mexican dishes and salads are all wonderful places to add beans to your diet.

I avoid store bought canned beans if at all possible. Why? They are loaded with salt and other ingredients that you probably want to avoid. Cooking one batch of beans and using them several times is one of the simplest things you can do to boost your nutrition while stretching your grocery dollars.

In this part (part 1) of this series on dried beans I'm going to teach you how to sort, soak, cook and store your cooked beans. We're going to focus on the traditional, long soak and long cook method here and I'll touch briefly on the short-cut method at the bottom of this post.

If at all possible, I want you to try making beans along with me. I'm going to show you how to use them in a very unusual way and I'm betting your family will never even know unless you tell them :) But, first we have to make these hard, dried-out little rocks turn into something edible.

Step 1~ Really, step 1 is buying some beans. I'm going to cook up some black beans here, we love these and the kids often ask for them in quesadillas for lunch so I like to have them on hand. Try to buy your beans somewhere that the demand for beans is high. Beans will store for a long time in a cool dark place, but if you are buying them at your corner market they may have been there for a while. The older the bean is the harder it is to get it to cook to a pleasing texture. Sometimes they won't cook at all. So, buy your beans from a store that probably goes through their inventory in a timely manner.

Beans sorted and ready to soak.

Step 2~ Measure your beans and sort them. Yes, they are sorted at the factory when they are bagged, but rocks, sticks and other field debris find their way through. Sort out any shriveled bean, broken bean and anything that isn't a bean. Rinse them under water in a colander and place them in a bowl.

Beans soaking.

Step 3~ Soak your beans. Pretty self explanatory right? You want beans for dinner tomorrow night, soak them before you go to bed and cook them the next day. Put enough water in your bowl to cover your beans by a good 2 inches or a little more. They are going to start soaking up the water and getting soft, so don't skimp on the water. Leave them on the counter for 8 hours or overnight.

After an all night soak. Almost all the liquid is absorbed.

Step 4~ Drain the beans and put them in a pot. Cover with water again and cook on medium heat until they beans are tender. Time will vary according to the type of bean you are cooking, but 2-2 1/2 hours is a good guess.

Cooked and ready to use!

So, there you have it! You have now cooked a pot of plain, unseasoned beans to add to other dishes. The reason I advocate cooking 1 large pot of beans is that it takes time. You don't want to be doing this every day (unless you are at home every day and even then I'm guessing you aren't going to want to do this all the time.), having the beans already cooked is convenient and makes it easier for you to just add them to your meals as you go.

What should you do with all your beans now that they are cooked? Measure out a cup or 2 and put them in freezer bags. Freeze those little suckers and they will be ready to be dropped into soup, enchiladas or thawed in the fridge for your lunch salad any day of the week. You can also puree them and freeze them. This can be added to soup or stews and be used as a thickener as well. Not a bad way to sneak a little nutrition in huh?

I said I would touch briefly on the short-cut method of cooking beans and I will now. I want you to know that I think learning to cook beans the long way is a valuable skill and I think everyone should master it. That being said, sometimes you forget to cook your beans, or need them in a hurry. That's OK, I've been there and done that. While these beans will be perfectly tasty and work just fine for you, I feel that the longer cooking time yields a superior end product.

Short-cut beans cooking: Sort and rinse your beans. Place in a pot and generously cover with water. Place on the stove and bring to a boil. Cover the pot and let it sit for 1 hour. Drain beans and cover with more water. Cook until tender.

That's the long way around and the short-cut. I'll let you decide which way you want to take, but at least try the long way once if you are hesitant. I think it will make a believer out of you!

If you're adventurous, puree 1 cup of black beans and meet me here tomorrow for a recipe with beans as the secret ingredient.....even if you aren't adventurous, come back to see the recipe it's amazing!!

Black bean puree, ready to be used in a surprising way :)


1 comment:

Guy said...

a little tip for those making baked beans and/or chili: a teaspoon or 2 of powder dulse and/or arame, 2 varieties of good tasting seaweed , will reduce the 'gasification' of beans in the digestive system. Dulse especially has a mild, slightly salty taste but I've used arame in everything from chicken noodle soup to baked beans and it has always tasted great. They're also really good for you.