Beans, Beans, Beans!

512px-Dries_red_beans_ready_for_useIf you have the time, inexpensive dried beans are the best, as some nutrition is lost in the canning process. Below, we’ll talk about how to soak and cook dried beans.

Canned beans are still very good for you though, so don’t feel badly about using them. Just take a few moments to prep them properly.

When you choose canned beans, make sure you drain and rinse them to remove the salt and anything else that was added during processing. Pour them into a colander and run cool water over them until the water running out is clear. Then proceed with the recipe.

If you can, get organic canned beans. Organic is not a nutritional improvement, but we do hope that because they are organically farmed that there will be fewer non-food chemicals in the can.

The current concern about canned beans is that the plastic linings used in the cans contain BPA (just like the plastic water bottles) and that the amount is particularly high in canned beans (it’s also in canned tomatoes and other things as well).

The plastic lining serves a good purpose though, one that makes the transfer to BPA free difficult. That lining helps prevents rust – from the inside out. Everything I have read so far indicates that you can remove or reduce BPA through thorough rinsing. If you are concerned about BPA, there are brands to look for.

BPA free Cans:

Eden Foods are the only canned beans that I know is BPA free.

Soon to be BPA free:

Muir Glenn and Amy’s are making changes to remove BPA per several web sites, but at the time of this writing are not yet BPA free.

Not BPA free:

all other canned beans

I’ll edit this list when I learn of brands that no longer use BPA in the lining of cans. If you have read that a company has changed how they produce canned beans and needs to be moved to the BPA free list, let me know and I’ll happily update this list.

Dried Beans

One of the best things I ever found out about beans is that you can cook them using any method you prefer, drain them, and freeze them! Home cooked beans can be made just as convenient as canned if you put 1 3/4 cup of beans in each freezer bag. That way, one bag will equal one 15 oz can.

The first time I did this I also discovered that you don’t want to over cook beans to be frozen. They will get a little mushy on the re-cook. Any day you have a little time, cook them to about 80% or so done, just close enough that a 1/2 hour or so in a pot will finish them – think al dente for beans.

Preparing beans for cooking

Clean your beans!

Beans are harvested and processed by machine and are prone to containing small stones, so protect your teeth by sorting them thoroughly before rinsing. After the initial sort and rinse, I like to put them in a pot with water and remove those bits that float. There are several ways to prepare the rinsed dried beans.

Traditional Long Soak

For the traditional long soak method, cover beans with 2” of water, cover with a lid, and let the beans soak for 6-8 hours. Drain, rinse, and put the beans back in the pot with fresh water to simmer until they are done – about an hour or so, just check then and see if they are as done as you want them to be. Beans break and split if they are simmered too hard so keep the heat very low.

Quick Soak

I never remember to get the beans out to soak the day before so I rarely use the traditional method, and instead use the quick soak method – cover the beans with 2” of water, bring to boil for two minutes, remove from heat, cover and let sit an hour or until you remember that they were still sitting on the stove. Then drain, rinse, add fresh water, and set to simmer as above. You can add fat or any seasoning, except salt, at the start of the simmer if you are heading right on in to cooking your soup or stew or whatever you are making.

Now let’s get to cooking those beans!

Slow Cooker

Because beans prefer to be cooked at a nice low temperature, the slow cooker is a terrific way to cook them. Pre-soak beans using preferred method above, then drain and rinse. Place a 1 pound bag’s worth of soaked beans and cover with water, about 8 cups. Simmer on low for 6-8 hours, or until beans are tender. How long this takes depends upon the type of beans. Pintos cook up quickly, kidney beans are rather slow. Some cookers work at a higher temperature than others, so the first time you do this, watch the beans carefully after 6 hours. Check for doneness every half hour or so. Add any seasonings except salt at the start. You can add salt once the beans are as tender as you like them. Stirring isn’t necessary. Drain when the beans are nice and tender and proceed as you wish.

Pressure Cook those Beans

Place the unsoaked beans in the pressure cooker using the quantity suggested by your cooker’s manufacturer, and cover with 2 to 3 inches of water. (Do NOT add salt) Put a loose fitting lid on the cooker, and bring the beans to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 5 to 6 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to stand for one hour. Check to make sure there is enough water to cover the beans before putting on the pressure cooker lid. Bring the pressure cooker to temperature, following directions for beans from the manufacturer. Once pressure is reached, turn down the temperature and cook for 25 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow pressure to drop by itself, do not lift the lid. When the cooker is completely cooled, remove the lid, and add a small amount of salt or continue on with your recipe.

Bake the Beans

After the quick or regular soaking method, place the beans in a pot with an oven safe lid. Add enough water to just cover the beans. Put the lid on the pot and bake in a 350° F oven for about an hour and a half to two hours. Check every now and then to see if you need to add more water to keep moist but not overly wet. When the beans are cooked, you may cool and freeze them or continue and add whatever seasonings you prefer.

Use the Rice Cooker

This fantastic suggestion comes from a remarkable Mindful Palate follower!

Another method is to rinse the beans then put them in a rice cooker with a generous amount of cold water. Beans will take two hours or more to cook if they are not pre-soaked. Our follower loves to cook pinto beans in her rice cooker. She adds rice and seasonings (cumin, chili powder, a little salt) during the last 20 minutes of cooking. You could add chopped onions, carrots, garlic and so on. It’s faster than a slow cooker, and the beans don’t get mushy because when the water is absorbed, the cooker shuts itself off. Brilliant.

To Salt or Not to Salt

Culinary weapons are drawn and tempers flare over whether it is appropriate to add salt or any acidic ingredients like tomatoes before the beans are cooked. I am impressed by the confident chefs that puff up their chests and firmly state that the beans will not become tender if you add these things at the beginning, so we’ll do as they say – hey, they do wield rather sharp knives.  Wait until the beans are cooked before adding salt or tomatoes.

Pass on the Gas

The baking soda in the water idea is a myth. Do not bother. There are a couple of other things that might help though.

Cure #1 – Choose the long soak and make sure you discard the soaking water rather than using it to cook. Apparently because they are uncooked, they don’t lose enough nutrition to make a difference. If an overnight discarded soak still has you, uhm, gassy, then proceed to Cure #2.

Cure #2 – Instead of just soaking overnight, soak for 24 hours. Do not use the soak water and flatulence be gone!

For some great bean recipes – see the beans/legumes section to the right under Categories.

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