Monday, July 19, 2010

Beans, Beans, the Magical Fruit: How to Cook Them

Lately I've been trying to get into the habit of cooking a whole pound of dried beans at the beginning of the week and then using them in various recipes throughout the week.  I'm going to start a little series here on the blog tracking my use of beans: whenever I prepare from scratch a new kind of bean, I will blog about it, sharing ideas and recipes on how to use up a whole pot of beans in a reasonable amount of time without eating the same thing every day.

Beans are a staple food all over the world, and with good reason.  Beans are, as most people know, quite nutritious: they are a powerhouse of fiber, protein, and phytochemicals, and you get all this nutrition for a very low price!  They are also quite versatile and can be prepared in a number of ways: whole, mashed, pureed, made into patties, curries, dips, soups, etc.  There are all different spice combos that you can use with them and they go well with rice, pasta, grains, tortillas, etc.

Why prepare your own beans?
  • Control the sodium levels.  Canned beans are often packaged in a sodium-filled gloop that can result in you over-salting your dishes which in turn can increase your own sodium levels.  Cooking your own beans gives you more control over the nutrition and flavor of your meals.
  • Reduce your trash.  One thin plastic bag's worth of dry beans is the equivalent of about three cans of beans.  You can also often buy beans in bulk, meaning you can reuse a container and waste even less.
  • Save money!  Dried beans cost less.  I compared the store brand costs of Great Northern beans at the grocery store and this is what I found: a one pound bag (yields 4½ cups of beans) cost $1.  A can of beans (1¾ cups) cost 85 cents.  This means that 4½ cups of canned beans costs about $2.18 or more than double the cost of dried beans.
Possible downsides (and reasons why they shouldn't stop you from preparing your own beans):
  • They take a long time to cook.  They also take very little attention so if you're prepping other food for the week or just doing stuff around the house, they can easily be added to your to-do list without causing extra aggravation.
  • Because of the long cooking time, they use up more energy.  I have not done any research on this so don't quote me, but logic rules: a lot of energy is also used to cook and package canned beans in factories, then ship them to your local store.  Canned beans also take up a lot of room on the grocery shelf, and grocery space is sold by the area.  You pay for all of this with every can of beans!  The costs of preparing your own are far more straight-forward.
  • They make you toot!  Many raw foodies actually avoid beans because they are inherently miscombined (both a starch and a protein) and cause stomach upset.  This rarely stops the rest of us though, but rest assured: the more beans you eat over time, the better your tummy handles it and the less tooting you do!  Also, the addition of kombu while cooking apparently helps you digest the beans, though it's not necessary.
So how do you cook beans?  It's really quite simple, though time-consuming, so I suggest you do it over the weekend or any time that you might be spending more time in the house.  This is pretty much what's involved: rinsing, soaking, rinsing, cooking.  It's only four easy steps to a quick and nutritious base for all sorts of meals!  Here's a basic guide to how to cook meals that I'm borrowing from Eat, Drink & Be Vegan by Dreena Burton, which is one of my favorite vegan cookbooks and resources by one of my favorite vegan chefs.  (Normally I would not share information from a cookbook, but this is not original - it can be found on any dried bean packaging, Dreena just gathers it all in one place.)
  • Step One: Rinse and Sort.  This is exactly what it sounds like.  Just pick over your beans, looking for any tiny stones or split beans and get rid of them.  Then rinse and drain, and you're ready to soak!
  • Step Two: Soak.  You have two options here: an overnight soak and a "quick soak."  For an overnight soak, just combine 1 part beans with 3-4 parts water in a large pot before bedtime, cover, and forget about them until the morning.  If you forgot this step, then do a quick soak: combine 3-4 parts water to one part beans in a large pot.  Boil for 5-7 minutes, turn off heat, cover, and let sit for 1½ - 2 hours
  • Step Three: Drain and Rinse again.  This is important because soaking the beans helped to get rid of some of their gas-causing sugars and helped finish cleaning them, and now all that yucky stuff is in the water.  Wipe out the pot while you're add it.
  • Step Four: Cook the Beans.  Combine 1 part beans with 3-4 parts fresh water in a large pot.  Bring to a boil on high heat, then reduce heat to simmer partially covered until tender, using the times below.
Cooking times:
Adzuki Beans: 45-60 minutes
Black Beans: 60-90 minutes
Black-eyed Peas: 45-60 minutes
Cannellini Beans: 60-90 minutes
Chickpeas: 1½-2 hours
Kidney Beans: 1½-2 hours
Navy Beans: 1½-2 hours

Storing beans:
  • In the fridge: After cooling, put beans in a container with a lid and cover in cooking liquid.  This keeps them from drying out and provides you with some beany liquid too moisten recipes with.
  • In the freezer: Put in a freezer-safe contained with a lid (optional: cover in cooking liquid).  It helps to measure your bean before freezing - either in one cup increments or 1½-1¾ cup increments (the equivalent of a can's worth, which many recipes call for).  Defrost in fridge over night or the morning before you plan to use them.
Some notes:
  • Don't add salt while cooking.  This will lengthen the cooking time, as will acidic ingredients like lemon juice and vinegar.
  • One cup dry beans yields 2-3 cups cooked beans.  A one pound bag of dry beans will leave you with about _ cups cooked beans.
  • One 15 oz can of bean is about 1.5 - 1.75 cups of cooked beans.
  • You can cook more beans!  Don't feel like you need to limit yourself to one bag of beans.  To really get ahead on your bean prep, cook a couple bags at a time and freeze what you can't use in a week.  That way you can switch to a new bean sooner and save yourself some stove-time in the future.
I am no bean expert and there's more to the subject, like pressure-cooking beans and sprouting beans.  Here are some other resources should you decide to expand your bean knowledge beyond this blog:
  • Miss Vickie's Pressure Cooking Dried Bean:  Contains information on cooking beans in a pressure cooker as well as bean basics: nutrition, digestibility, etc.  It's much more expansive than what I've written here.
  • The Basics of Sprouting: Contains info on how to sprout all sorts of legumes and seeds, including beans.
Now that you've got your beans, you're ready to make your meals!  Stay tuned for ideas on what to do with your beans and get multiple meals out of one bag's worth.  First up will be black beans!  I will also be updating this page if I find out any new exciting bean information.

1 comment:

  1. As a vegan myself, I also love beans. Still don't get why non-vegans don't get the awesomeness they provide.