How to cook beans

See those shriveled little guys in the cup? They’re cheap, and they turn into those plump, delicious beans still steaming in the glass container.

This is so easy you’ll be amazed you never thought of it before.  After that you’ll taste freshly made beans and only keep canned for the times you forget to soak some in advance (which, shamefully, is quite often for me).

All you need to cook beans is a pot, a mixing bowl, beans of choice, water and a dash of oil.  Some beans, like black eyed peas (beans) and adzuki beans, don’t need soaking.  Today I made garbanzos, so I’m going to use those as the example.

Start by scooping out about a cup of beans into a mixing bowl.  Check for any discolored beans and toss those.  Fill the bowl with water until it’s about 3 inches above the beans.  I cover mine with plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator overnight.  Beans should soak 6-8 hours before cooking — there are other ways to accomplish this, but the results are just not as good. One cup of dry beans yields 2.5 to 3 cups cooked and is the equivalent of roughly 8 oz at the market (I usually buy just over a pound to be sure I’ve got at least 2 cups).

Next, drain the water from the beans and place them in the pot with fresh water a few inches above them.  You can also throw in some onions, garlic, celery, carrot — whatever you like, but don’t add salt until the end.  Add oil — a teaspoon will do it.  The oil helps prevent the beans from building up foam across the top as they cook, which I can tell you from experience is a mess when they boil over as a result.

Place the pot over LOW heat (better for the beans, prevents aforementioned boiling over), lid about half on (I balance mine over a wooden spoon laid across the top), set a timer for 1 hour and go do something else with your time.  When it rings, come back, give the beans a little stir, then set the timer for another half hour.  Take out a few and taste.

If the beans are a bit al dente (firm), give it another 15 minutes before you check again.  If they are still tough, give it another half hour and then check again.  I generally find that black beans and black eyed peas take about 1.5 hours to cook, while garbanzos and pinto beans take about 2 hours.

You don’t want to overcook the beans or they will become mushy and/or start to split, but you have a goodly amount of latitude when you cook them this way (rather than in a pressure cooker, where you could end up with a bowlful of rocks, or soup; I’m not against pressure cookers in any way, but this method is dead easy and I think the taste is a little better).

When finished, drain in a colander, then immediately place the beans into a covered container.  The steam continues to cook the skins of the beans and creates a perfect end result.  Let cool for about 20 minutes, then get them into the fridge, or enjoy!

Be sure that if you are placing them in the refrigerator that while they are cooling they are not right next to other foods (like milk) that they might bring to a higher temperature than is safe.  When the refrigerator is full, I place re-freezable ice around the container of beans for a couple of hours.

If you don’t like having a ton of one kind of bean hanging around, you can always have two pots going at the same time with two different kinds.   They will last in the fridge for about a week (NO LONGER).  Great for adding to salads, soups, making hummus, wraps or Indian food.  Tonight I’ll be adding these babies to spaghetti with pesto sauce and fresh broccoli, and later this week they’ll reappear in soup with cornbread — which I bake once and freeze in three parts, saving a lot of time and effort on prep.

I buy organic beans that are free of genetically modified organisms (some garbanzos fit this category), and find that Whole Foods (yes, Whole Foods) has good prices at a couple bucks or less per pound.  They also have conventionally grown beans for less than that, and as I mentioned in my recent post, they are sometimes cheaper than at your local market.

You can find extremely helpful information on cooking bulk grains and beans here, or you can pick up this little booklet at Whole Foods for the all time, low, low price of free:

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