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Using Dried Beans

Using Dried Beans

I’ve taught a lot of classes in my life and it’s always surprising to me that people are stumped when it comes to dried beans. They’d almost rather tackle a complex recipe than soak and cook dried beans. I’m not sure where the deep-seated fear comes from, but let’s wrestle this baby to the ground right now.

First, there are benefits to using dried beans vs. canned or frozen. Generally, it’s more economical. Now that’s a great reason right there, but if that’s not enough, using dried beans is healthier and your end result usually has superior taste and texture. Boom. How can you argue with that? You’ll tell me it’s complicated or it takes planning or you’re afraid to mess it up. Relax, it’s ok. We’re going to do this together.

Picking over beans to remove debris

Picking over beans to remove debris

1. Bring your dried beans home and dump them on a clean towel or baking sheet. Pick over them and remove any debris that you don’t want to or shouldn’t be eating…like tiny pebbles. Yes, there may be a pebble in your beans. That’s just a reminder that they came from the earth, don’t get creeped out by it.

2. Put the amount you want in a medium or large pot. Fill up the put with water, till they’re covered by about 2 extra inches. Now go away. Go to bed, go to work, leave them alone for about 6-8 hours…or more. It won’t hurt them to leave them longer.

3. Look at your beans. Notice how they are plumped up with all that water? Think how good that is for you. Drain and rinse the beans. Put them back into the pot (see, we didn’t even get an extra bowl dirty for this.) Cover them with water again and put them on the stove on medium heat and partially cover with a lid. Now, it’s not really true what they say about a watched pot. I like to wait till they start to boil then skim off with a large spoon the bubbles and schmutz that rise to the top. Helps to remove so of what makes beans a little gassy for some of us.

Typical bag of kelp you can buy in the store

Typical bag of kelp you can buy in the store

4. Most beans will cook in about an hour, but you can look up cooking times on line for the particular bean you’re using. If you haven’t soaked them long enough, they will take longer to cook. Test them after about 30-40 minutes. They should be getting a little tender. This is when I like to put my salt in the water. Some say if you put it in too early, the beans take longer to cook. If I have all the time in the world, I’ll sometimes throw a couple of tablespoons right at the beginning so I don’t forget later. Another thing you can add which is super nutritious is a piece of kelp or kombu. It’s a little strip of seaweed that doesn’t impart any fishy flavor but add important minerals and nutrients, and also helps to make the beans a little more digestible. You can find kelp and most grocery stores now, but specifically I get mine either online (more economical to buy in quantity since I use it a lot) or at a healthy grocery store like Whole Foods or Mrs. Greens.

5. Taste them. And just to prove my point…open up a can of the same type of bean and try to tell me the ones you just cooked aren’t a thousand times better. Now, you would take these beans and use them in any recipe that calls for cooked or canned beans.

I like to make extra and freeze those little suckers in a baggie so that when I’m planning on a dish with beans, all I have to do is take out the baggie and defrost in my fridge a day or two before I’m going to use them. Ah yes, that does require a little forethought about what you are going to make the next day…but that’s a tip for another day.

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