Wednesday, February 1, 2012

How to Cook Beans from Scratch

Home-cooked beans made from scratch are sooo delicious!  They are vastly superior than canned for many reasons: texture, flavor, you get awesome bean broth, they are cheaper, you can add your own seasonings, and I find it very satisfying.

It is very easy to cook dried beans from scratch but they do require some advanced planning because they take awhile to soak and cook. (You can also cook fresh or sprouted beans super fast but I'll talk about those later...)

Other than thinking about the approximate amount of cooked beans I want to end up with...
(kitchen tip: 1/2 pound dried beans = 1 cup dried = 3 cups cooked)
...I don't really measure ingredients, but here's the method I use:
  1. Sort your dried beans: spread them out on a flat surface (like on a baking sheet) and make sure to remove any bad looking beans and anything that is not a bean (like little stones and grains).
  2. Rinse the beans with water.  This removes dirt or anything else their surface has come into contact with.
  3. Ideally: in a bowl, cover the beans with water by a couple inches (about 3 times as much water as beans), cover with a lid, and soak overnight in the fridge or for at least 4 hours. The soaking water contains the bulk of the raffinose (a bean sugar that we can't digest), so tossing this water after soaking helps eliminate gas. (If you forget to soak beans ahead of time, don't despair; you can still pull it off with a quick soak: boil beans in soaking water for a few minutes, the cover and let soak in the hot water for an hour.)
  4. Drain & rinse the beans, then cover them with fresh water plus about an inch in a pot.
  5. Boil the beans on a good hard boil for about 10 minutes and skim off any foamy scum that forms on top of the water (cuz who wants to eat bean scum? Also, it can boil over and make a terrible mess).
  6. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer. Cook time will depend on several things: pre-soaked beans cook faster, small beans cook faster than big ones, old beans that have been sitting in your cupboard for years may not ever get tender.  Generally, pre-soaked beans will take 45 minutes to an hour to simmer until soft and tender, with larger beans taking close to an hour and a half.  So start 'em early; beans keeping warm on the stove waiting for the rest of the meal to be ready is not a bad thing.  Also, you can cook beans in a crock pot.
  7. After you skim off the bean foam and reduce the heat, this is a good time to add any flavorings to the pot.  I always add 1/4-1/2 onion, 2 peeled whole garlic cloves and a couple sprigs of parsley, cilantro (for Mexican food), or epazote (for black beans).  If you don't have fresh herbs, you could use a teaspoon or more of dried herbs.  These additions enrich the flavor of the beans and the beany broth.
  8. While your beans are simmering, periodically check the water and add more as needed to keep the water level completely covering the beans.
  9. Periodically, scoop out a bean or 2 and taste to see how they are coming along. If they are getting close to done, this is the time to add salt to taste.  Do not add salt earlier in the cooking process or it will make your beans tough.  Some people like to cook their beans until they are super mushy but I prefer to cook them until they are a kinda soft creamy texture when I bite into them but they still hold their shape.
  10. Now they are ready to eat!  You can serve them in their broth, drain them (save the broth for soup!) or mash them (add in the broth as needed when mashing).
If you grow your own or find them at the farmers market, cook beans fresh out of their shell! You can find beautiful heirloom varieties and fresh favas (which take forever to shell but are amazing) and cannellinis. In a pot, cover fresh beans with water, bring to a boil, add your seasonings (except salt) and simmer on low heat until tender, adding salt in the last few minutes of cooking.  Fresh beans will cook up in 10-30 minutes.

Or, Suzie's Farm sells sprouted beans, which you can eat raw or simmer like I've described above.

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