Friday, October 7, 2011

Bean Basics

While many people will readily agree that beans are one of those "healthy foods" we should be eating more of, there are quite a few that turn up their noses at beans out of an unconscious mixture of "bean bias" and low-exposure.  I'm here to help.

From an early age, many of us our conditioned to avoid beans, thanks to the cutesy school-yard chant. Once, at my house, a 5-year-old walked into my kitchen, spied a bowl of black beans, pointed dramatically and shouted, "BEANS? YUCK!" I seriously doubt that the kid had ever even tried black beans in his entire life. I love it when I can remedy that!

Beans are a great combination of non-fat protein AND fiber (something you'll never find in a steak).  A can of beans usually contains about 1 1/2 cups of actual beans, once you rinse away the saucy stuff that they're packed with (and you SHOULD rinse away that saucy stuff since most canned beans are actually cooked in the can, and the resulting saucy stuff is full of gas-producing enzymes).  To rinse, simple empty can contents into a colander and rinse under cold water until all foamy residue is gone.  Canned beans are a great, convenient way to add protein to salads, soups and wraps.  At $1.50 or less, they're cheap, too.

Dried beans are even cheaper, yet many people are intimidated by the preparation process.  Don't be!  For most dried beans (with the exception of little ones like lentils, split peas and mung beans) follow these steps and you'll be a bean-cooking pro in no time:

  • place dried beans into large bowl and sort through them, removing any stones or other debris
  • cover beans with water, plus an inch or two
  • allow beans to soak (at room temperature) overnight, or at least 6-8 hours
  • discard soaking water, rinse beans thoroughly and drain in a colander
  • place beans in a large stockpot, and cover with water, plus 2 inches - NOTE: it's important that you do NOT add salt to the cooking water as this will prevent beans from getting soft!  Salt them AFTER they are cooked. 
  • add 1 piece of kombu (dried seaweed, found in the Asian section of most grocery stores) OR 2 whole cloves of garlic OR 2 bay leaves - THESE WILL HELP LESSEN THE GASSY EFFECTS OF THE ENZYMES IN BEANS
  • bring beans to a boil, and allow to boil for 2 minutes
  • reduce heat to simmer
  • for smaller beans, allow to simmer about 30 minutes, larger beans may take up to 90 minutes, HOWEVER, it's important to check them every 30 minutes or so, to make sure they don't overcook or cook dry.  The best gage to test for doneness is to eat one or two.
  • When beans are cooked, rinse and drain, discarding the cooking liquid.  At this point, use them as you would canned beans, adding to soups, seasoning for tacos, etc.  Use cooked beans within two days.  For longer storage, place drained beans in canning jars or freezer bags in freezer.  Use within a month or two.

One pound of dried beans yields between four and six cups of cooked beans, depending on the bean.  Most dried beans cost less than $2 per pound.

Stumped about how to use beans?  Check out some of my recipes here!

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