Monday, 4 March 2013

Back to Basics - Cooking Beans From Scratch

Many people think that cooking dried beans is difficult and time consuming.  In fact cooking your own dried beans from scratch is very easy and requires almost nothing of the cook. A nice bonus is of course that they are extremely economical.  But for me the most important reason to cook beans from scratch is to avoid BPA in the cans.  So let's get started.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to cooking dried beans: The Always Pre-Soak School and; The Just Go Ahead and Cook Them School.  I think that presoaking is preferable because it helps retain the skin and the shape of the bean.  If beans are not pre-soaked they take longer to cook and can get beaten up and mushy.  If you are making something like Refried Beans then it doesn’t really matter but if you want the beans to retain their shape then pre-soaking is the way to go.

What Do I Mean by Pre-Soaking?
Once you have picked over the beans removing any that look really old or the wrong colour, place them in a large pot.  Now you have two choices.  Either:
  1. Cover well with a good deal of cold water and let sit overnight or,
  2. Cover well with boiling water and let sit for an hour

It is important to know that one cup dry beans equals about 3 cups cooked so be sure to cover them with a generous amount of water so they can plump up before cooking.

When I don’t have much time I give the beans a quick pre-soak by covering them with boiling water and letting them stand for at 10 minutes before cooking.

To Cook the Beans
  • Fill the pot with water to 1” above the beans
  • I usually add a bay leaf or two
  • Cover and bring to a boil, skim off the foam that forms on the top
  • Once they are on a full boil turn down the heat and simmer so they don’t get “beat-up”
  • Now just leave them alone, making sure there is always enough water and topping up when needed
  • Do not salt until they are nearly cooked because salt will harden the skin and lengthen the cooking time
  • Pull a few out to test. Pop them in your mouth, if they are hard they are not done yet
  • Once done, strain the water and remove bay leaf
  • Cooking beans can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours depending on the type of bean and how long it has been sitting on a shelf

Here is a quick reference table that I put together from a few different cookbooks. Times can very so check on doneness several times while cooking. 
                       BEAN                        APPROXIMATE COOKING TIME
            Black Eyed Peas                                   30-60 minutes
            Kidney                                                     1-1.5 hours
            Black or Turtle                                      45-60 minutes
            Lima                                                         50-90 minutes
            Split Peas                                                 35-45 minutes
            Cannellini                                                1.5-2 hours
            Garbanzo or Chick Pea                        1.5-2 hours
 That's it. Easy huh?  Now you have lovely beans to make dips and to add to your chili, soup, or salad.  Beans freeze very well and I always have a few ready to throw into a last minute soup or to make a quick batch of hummus.  I hope this helps to demystify the world of dried bean and starts you on the way to life without cans and BPA!

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