Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beans


I can't say enough about beans. They're so wonderful. Different shapes, different sizes, different colors, different flavors. They add so much to dishes, from fiber, to protein, to iron. Did I mention they taste wonderful?
With people's busy lives and instant gratification needs, many have forgotten that beans come in a dried form. The easy, convenient, quick way to make beans is to open up a can. And that is fine sometimes. But recently, I've discovered that getting dried beans in the bulk bins at health food stores and co-ops is far cheaper, far better for the environment (think of all the aluminum cans you'd save!),  much healthier (think less salt, no BPA lined cans, and no preservatives), and more fun (if you've ever seen cool, colorful heirloom beans, you know what I'm talking about...you'll never be able to get those in a can). Many people wonder why you need to soak the beans before cooking. Well, to make a long and complex story short, the beans will become easier to digest and they will cook quicker. Granted, it takes time to soak the dried beans overnight and boil them until they're tender, but with a little planning ahead of time, this can easily be done. I've gotten used to it and while I'll admit that sometimes it would be easier to just open up a can, I realize that it's all worth it when I taste the perfectly cooked beans that I've cooked myself. I encourage you to try.

How to Cook Dried Beans
Soak your desired amount of beans in water covering them about 3 inches overnight (or at least 8 hours) at room temperature. Remember, when beans hydrate, they tend to expand, so you'll get a greater volume of cooked beans. Keep this in mind so you don't make more than you need. But if you do make more, you can always keep the extra cooked beans in the refrigerator and add them to your dishes throughout the week. That way they're already cooked and nice and convenient to use.

When you're ready to cook them, drain the presoaked beans and rinse them in cool water. Put them in a pot and cover them with fresh water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, add some sea salt, and keep an eye on them. You may need to add  more water. Sometimes you get a nice layer of foam on top of the simmering beans. That doesn't hurt anyone, just skim it off with a slotted spoon if you really don't like it. Different beans cook at different times, depending upon their size and how old they are, so I can't give you an exact time when they'll be done. Just taste them and when they're the tenderness that you want them, drain them. Like I said, they keep very well covered in the refrigerator for about 5 days and add them to things as you need them. With a little planning ahead, you can really get the most out of your beans.



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