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Monday, May 17, 2010

Beans, beans the magical fruit...


My Dad said something recently that made me think differently about how I cook. We were talking about beans, though the concept can be used kitchen-wide. It was simple really, what he said about when going to the trouble of cooking beans you may as well cook up a huge pot. The soaking time and cooking time can be daunting, and a put-off if you are looking for a quick dinner. Hence the old can or two of beans that sits in all of our pantries. In the last few years I have come to be quite a purist and frugal shopper, shunning as many canned and prepared products as possible. I would much rather make my own. In a pinch of course, I will grab a can of beans, or diced tomatoes. But if I can save money, packaging, processing, etc, by doing it myself I will. And let me tell you that there is nothing that compares to a hot pot of beans or fresh tomato sauce. Nothing.
So my Dad's philosophy was to minimize the time spent cooking beans overall by cooking a lot at once. What do you do with so many beans you ask, there is no way we could choke down that many in a week. I agree. One or two meals is enough for me too. So what I do is freeze them. Pack cooled beans into freezer safe containers of various sizes. Glass jars such as clean peanut butter, pickle, mayo jars work well or you can use plastic yogurt containers or ziploc bags. When I freeze beans I make sure there is no extra liquid in the container, and fill the container about 3/4 full. When you want some beans pull a jar out of the freezer and thaw. For a quick thaw, pour warm water over the beans to loosen and then dump into a pan to heat. Try to use them up within a month or two or they will lose freshness.
Beans are delicious in tacos, chili, hummus, soups, sprinkled on salads, or as a side.
Though different varieties of beans have different cooking times, I usually follow the same process for all of them. And lately have been making fun bean medleys such as black, pinto, and kidney beans, shown above.

Basic Beans

Rinse beans and pick through. Cover with lots of water in a pot. Soak for 6 to 24 hours. I read recently that you should cook beans in their soaking liquid so you don't lose flavor, but if you want you can dump the soaking water and cover again with fresh water. I like to add onion and a bay leaf to the pot. Adding a few pieces of seaweed is supposed to reduce gas. Up to you. Don't add salt until beans are cooked. Bring to a boil and then simmer until beans are soft, anywhere from half an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the bean and soaking time.
Once beans are done, salt to taste. Storing them in their cooking liquid in the fridge is good for keeping them moist, though I like to drain it off when freezing.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Pressure cookers are dynamite for cooking beans el pronto! Soaking still needs to happen - but cooked under pressure - beans can be tender in 10 minutes. If you cook a lot of beans - they're worth the investement.