Cooking With Beans

David Trammel's picture

Dewey said in another thread:

People who can't confidently make red beans and rice on a stove are nowhere near ready to make them in a solar cooker or haybox. If the food turns out nasty or worse, they will be too quick to conclude that appropriate tech inherently produces inferior food. A person should first get to the point where they can reliably produce an edible and tasty set of basic meals using the mod-cons such as a stove, then start experimenting with alternative cooking methods for those meals. If they know what texture they expect from a well-cooked bean, then if they don't see that in the haybox batch, they'll know what's wrong and understand that more boiling or longer soaking time are needed.

That made me realize, I haven't ever cooked dried beans from scratch. I know, hard to believe but as a single person sometimes you stick with what you know. So the question for some of you who are good cooks, how would you cook beans?

I know it involves soaking them for a while...

Alacrates's picture

I think dried legumes are a great thing for "scarce times" cooking. Of course they mix well with cooked dried grains, providing a complete protein, and they provide a base of carbohydrates that you can top with whatever else you could acquire: fats like butter or olive oil, vegetables, greens, small amounts of meat or cheese, spices, etc.

I think the confusion about cooking dried beans comes from the fact that people have hard & fast rules (which do probably work pretty well) and yet there are a number of combinations of soaking/boiling/simmering/seasoning that will give good results. Also, sometimes we are looking for different things: sometimes we want the bean to be firm with intact skins, and at other times we want creamy beans with broken skins.

I think the most simple breakdown I've seen is in Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. My main takeaways:

The most straightforward method for dried beans (but not lentils and split peas) is to give them a rinse, then put them in a pot, covered by 2 -3 inches of water and a tight fitting lid. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, then turn off heat and let them sit for 2 hours.

At this point, take a bean out and taste it. If the bean is hard, add in more water so that they have 2 -3 inches of water over them again. If the bean is starting to get tender, add a large pinch of salt and some pepper, and make sure you have about 1 inch of water cover.

Return the pot to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer. Partially cover, and stir gently every 15 min or so. Taste them every 10 minutes or so until they are as soft as you want them. If you haven't added salt, do that once they've started becoming tender.

Soaking: basically the same, just that you soak them before adding heat. Bittman recommends 6 - 12 hours, but no longer than 12, after that they tend result in mushy beans. He recommends draining the soaking liquid, refilling the pot to 2 - 3inches cover of water. Then you just bring to boil, reduce to simmer, add salt once they just start to become tender.

No Soak: This is how to cook smaller legumes like lentils and split peas, but it will work for all beans. Cover beans in pot with 2 -3 inches water. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, partially cover. Add more water if necessary to keep beans under water. Add salt when beans becoming tender.

So that is the basics. I've adapted with a pressure cooker to cook soaked beans for maybe 5 - 8 mins, then release pressure and simmer until they're done.

For the salt, Bittman says the most important thing is not to add it at the beginning, it breaks down the skin of the bean too early and changes the way the beans absorb water. Also, if you're looking for firmer beans with intact skins, you can add 2 tbsp of vinegar or lemon juice along with the salt. If you want richer, creamier beans you can add a cup or two of any kind of milk to the cooking water - so dairy or non-dairy (rice, soy, almond milks, etc.)

Some good flavoring ideas:

- things you could add to the cooking water: herbs or spices (bay leaf, thyme/rosemary/parsely sprigs), aromatics (onion, carrot, celery, garlic), stock, a cup of wine or beer, a ham hock, etc.

I know some people keep the water from cooking the beans and use it as a vegetable stock. I do find that it has to be used up fairly quickly, it does go bad of course, but can give some interesting flavors to other things that you are cooking.

I think the favorite recipe from this book was white beans with rosemary. It can be either as firm beans or a puree, but adding rosemary, salt, garlic and olive oil to white beans is pretty addictive.

I think there is a long tradition of combining beans with pork and cooked greens, and this is a tradition I won't argue with at all!