Beans, beans, good for your heart. Beans, beans, they make you.... smart!
That's right, smart! Beans are a good source of folate, dietary fiber, protein, phosphorus, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese, potassium and vitamin K. The protein-plus-fiber combination in beans is one of the things that makes them special. Much of the fiber is indigestible, which supports digestive health, particularly in the lower part of our digestive tract. The protein-fiber combination is also key in stabilizing blood sugar levels, as both protein and fiber move through our digestive systems at a moderate pace. Beans are also rich in soluble fiber, which is helpful for lowering blood cholesterol levels and supporting cardiovascular health.
So, why dried beans? First and foremost, dried beans are waaaaay cheaper than their canned cousins. Dried beans are generally better for you than canned because you control the cooking. You decide whether or not you want to add salt to the cooking water, and how much. And the liners of many of those cans are coated with a plastic liner that contains BPA, which may be leeching into the contents of the can. ‘Member all those plastic water bottles you tossed out a few years back because of the BPA fear frenzy? Want that stuff in your food? Me neither.
Dried beans store really well at temperatures ranging from warm to room temperature to freezing. You can keep them in a moisture proof container or bag for up to a year in your cupboard – they will last way longer than that, but beans that are several years old take much longer to cook than those from a more recent harvest. Think of all of the extra space you could have in your kitchen cupboards if you switched to dried beans; since they double in volume once soaked and cooked, the same amount of dried beans will take up half as much space as canned.
If it’s the convenience of canned beans you’re after, fear not. You can soak and cook big batches of dried beans and then portion them up and store them cooked. They’ll last a week in your fridge, and up to six months in your freezer. I like to store cooked beans in a little of the cooking liquid, I find it keeps them a little more tender than without.
Cooking methods and tips for dried beans:
Peas and Lentils: lentils do not require soaking prior to cooking, and cook up quite quickly, in about 20 minutes. Split peas are more like lentils, and also do not require pre-soaking and have a shortened cooking time. Black-eyed peas, yellow-eyed peas, and chick-peas (garbanzo beans) are really beans, and do require a pre-soak.
Beans: beans need to be soaked before they are cooked on the stove top to replace some of the water that was lost when they were dried. This speeds up the cooking time, and also leeches out some of the flatulence causing compounds; you can discard the soaking water before cooking if this is a concern for you. I generally cook in the same water I soak in because it’s not a concern for me (you can ask my husband about this), and there are valuable nutrients in that water. If you do choose to discard your soaking water, save it and use it for watering your plants.
Before soaking your beans you should give them a once over. Remove any debris that doesn’t look like it belongs there like pebbles or sticks, and any cracked, dull, or shriveled looking beans. Given them a quick rinse in a colander or sieve, and then you’re ready to go.
The long cold soak: This requires some foresight. Cover 1 part of dried beans in 3 parts of cold water. Let stand for 8 – 12 hours or overnight in a cool place. If it’s really warm out you may want to do your long soak in the fridge to prevent the beans from going sour before you have a chance to cook them.
The quick hot soak: This is the method I use the most because I don’t often have the foresight for the long cold soak. In a large pot cover 1 part dried beans in 3 parts of cold water. Bring to the boil, and boil for 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat, put a lid on the pot, and let stand for one hour.
Now that your beans have soaked, you’re ready to cook them. You can discard the soaking water at this point and replace it with fresh water if you want to. Again, cover your beans in about 3 parts of water for 1 part of beans. Make sure your pot is big enough to accommodate for bean expansion and some foaming which is bound to happen. You can add about a teaspoon of oil to the cooking water to help combat the foam – the oil disrupts the starch chain formation and reduces foaminess. Bring your beans to a boil for ten minutes. Reduce heat, cover with lid lightly ajar, and simmer for about 40 – 50 minutes, until your beans are tender but not mushy. Cooking time will vary slightly depending on the type of bean, how old the bean is, and whether your water is soft or hard. If you’re adding any flavouring to the beans, like herbs, onions, garlic, you can add these to the cooking water. However, if your ingredients are acidic (lemon juice, tomatoes, etc), hold off adding them until the beans are almost done, as they will toughen the beans and increase cooking times.
Slow cooker: It is sometimes difficult to find the right setting with a slow cooker. Cover the beans in plenty of water and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours. If you this is your first time cooking beans in your slow cooker, or you're cooking an unfamiliar kind of bean, begin checking the beans after 5 hours and then every 30 minutes until they are cooked to your liking. Beans generally finish cooking in 6 to 8 hours. Safety Note! If you are cooking kidney beans, boil them for 10 minutes before cooking them in a slow cooker. This is VERY IMPORTANT as it neutralizes a toxin called phytohemagglutinin that can cause acute digestive distress.
Pressure cooker: I don’t own a pressure cooker. Truthfully, they scare me a bit. But they are reported to cook dried beans up in a fraction of the time it would otherwise take. If you have a pressure cooker, you’ll want to fill it no more than half full with your beans and water, and then follow manufacturer’s directions.
Microwave: microwave cooking is not recommended for dried beans. The cooking time is the same as for conventional.
This post was originally published on February 26, 2011.