Cooking Lesson: Beans

beans - dried

For a while now I've been telling you guys to avoid canned foods because of BPA.  And I know that many of you rely on beans as a source of quick and healthy fiber and protein in your diets.  And I also know that Eden Organic brand is, right now, the only brand of canned beans that doesn't use BPA in the liner.  So . . . how 'bout avoiding the issue altogether, while saving time and money?  Cook your own!?  I think that home-cooked beans taste worlds better than canned.

But I can hear you now . . . it takes time to cook beans yourself!  You're here reading Semi-Sweet 'cause you don't have loads of time.  I understand - most beans will take 1 to 1 1/2 hours to cook until tender.  But maybe this handy-dandy primer will help?  I'm also including instructions on how to freeze your own beans - so you could do up a big batch on, say, a weekend or weeknight when you're hanging around the house (the cook time is largely unattended time) so you can eat some that week and freeze some for the future.  Do this a few weeks in a row, varying your bean selection, and voila!  You have a store of beans in your freezer that'll rival anything you've had in your larder.  

Cooking Beans

Super-basic method (requires no prior planning!):  Rinse and pick over the beans, removing any stones or debris.  Put your beans in a pot, cover them with about 2 inches of water, and bring the water to a boil.  Turn the heat down to a simmer and cover the pot loosely.  Cook, occasionally stirring gently, until the beans start to get tender.  Then add about 1 t. of salt per 1/2 lb. of beans and continue to cook, again stirring gently, until the beans are tender.  You may have to add more water during the cooking time so that beans remain covered.  Drain and serve, use them in recipes or freeze them for later use (see below). 

Faster-cook method (requires prior-planning):  Soak your beans in water to cover them for at least 6 hours or overnight.  Drain them, and then cook as directed above in fresh water.  Or, you can boil the beans for 2 minutes in water to cover, then remove them from the heat and leave them to soak for 2 hours in that water.  Drain them, and then cook them in fresh water.  These quicker cooking methods will reduce your cooking time by 15 to 30 minutes.

Freezing Beans

Get yourself some smallish, freezer-safe containers, and after you've cooked up your beans, measure out portions into the containers, along with their cooking liquid and pop 'em in the freezer.  They'll keep for months in there.  Defrost either in the fridge or microwave and enjoy.

Flavor Boosters For Beans

 I often cook my beans in plain old water with some salt because I like to use them as a blank canvas for recipes.  Here are some ingredients to add while cooking your beans that'll jazz 'em up:

  1. Add a quartered yellow onion and two bay leaves when you cook the beans;
  2. Add a quartered yellow onion, a carrot a celery stalk and 3 or 4 cloves of garlic when you cook the beans; and/or
  3. Cook your beans in chicken, beef or vegetable stock.

 What Do I Do With Them?

  1. Try searching Epicurious, plugging in the sort of beans you're preparing along with any other ingredients you have on hand. 
  2. A quick little Bittman salad:  Mix cooked cannellini or other white beans, chopped cherry or grape tomatoes and arugula or baby spinach. Lightly toast sliced garlic in olive oil with rosemary and red pepper flakes; cool slightly, add lemon zest or juice or both, then pour over beans.
  3. Combine black beans, halved grape tomatoes and cubed avocado.  Top with a vinaigrette of sherry vinegar, good olive oil, salt and pepper.
  4. Whip up some Taco Soup in your slow-cooker - people have been raving about this one!
  5. This Chocolate Calypso Beans recipe from 101 Cookbooks is on my list - looks delicious, as does this different take on Kidney Bean Soup from Macheesmo.

However you make or eat them, beans are a super nutritious, delicious and inexpensive addition to your diet.  What're your favorite ways to eat beans?  Share them in the comments!