Dried Beans Made Easy
I'll admit, the bag o' beans looks pretty intimidating if you've never used them before. There's talk of soaking and rinsing, and the directions are listed in hours instead of minutes. Heck, even the bag isn't pretty. But, there are two great reasons to give the dried bean a chance despite all of that: money and nutrition.
When you're cooking for a family on a budget, it's hard to beat the humble dried bean. At about $2.50 for 12 half-cup servings, it's very inexpensive yet packs a nutritional punch. An excellent source of meatless protein, they're full of vitamins and minerals and low in fat. Once cooked, they freeze extremely well, making them convenient to add to any meal.So why doesn't the modern military spouse use more dried beans? I think they are overshadowed by the allure of the quick convenience of canned beans.
Canned beans are faster. That convenience comes at a cost, both to your wallet and to your health. Most of the more commonly available brands are packed with preservatives, added sugars, and salt. If cutting down on BPA is a priority in your nutritional plan, dried beans are the way to go as most beans are canned in BPA-lined cans, and you pay a premium for the ones that aren’t. There is also a pretty huge difference in the taste and texture of cooking beans from scratch versus using beans from a can.
To Soak or Not to Soak?
I was a die hard pre-soaker for years until a friend studying at the Culinary Arts Institute taught me that it was unnecessary in most cases. She was right. By not soaking beans, the end result was a denser, al dente, more flavorful bean. Yes, I know this goes against everything we've ever been taught about dried beans but I swear by this method. I only soak the red kidney beans these days. Black beans, black-eyed peas, garbanzos – they all go straight to the pot in my house.
A Word About Red Kidney Beans
The red kidney bean is a staple in my kitchen. I love the meaty flavor and the big, dense texture. It's also part of the family of beans that can cause a type of food poisoning when undercooked. Whenever you’re cooking red kidney beans, it’s important to presoak and bring to a boil for at least 10 minutes.
Slow Cooker + Dried Beans = Easy
A trick that makes prepping dried beans a cinch is to skip the pre-soak and use a slow-cooker. This method works well for every type of dried bean except lentils which have a much faster cooking time and red kidney beans that need a pre-soak. It's hard to beat the ease of setting the slow cooker in the morning to return to several meals worth of beans in the evening.
Dump the one pound bag of beans into a colander and rinse well. Pull out any sticks, stones, or shriveled beans and throw them away.
Did your beans come with a seasoning packet? Do yourself a favor and throw it away. It's full of preservatives and sodium.
Cooking red kidney beans? Put the rinsed beans into a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes. Pour beans back into the colander to drain and rinse one more time.
Pour the rinsed beans in the slow cooker and pour in the water to cover the beans with at least two inches of water.
Cover and set to low for eight hours or high for four hours.
Drain and use in your favorite recipes.
Freeze for easy use later by ladling into BPA-free bags or containers.
What is your favorite way to eat beans?