As a committed vegetarian, beans are an integral part of my daily diet, providing protein, fiber and a host of other important nutrients my body requires. When I first began transitioning to a vegetarian lifestyle, the first thing I did was eliminate dairy products from my diet. The next step was incorporating dried beans in place of meat in many meals. Though it took some getting used to, the transition was relatively painless and I have never looked back.
Dried beans, also called legumes, have been a staple of the human diet for thousands of years. Jars of these most basic of foods were entombed with the pharaohs of ancient Egypt and they remain an important ingredient in today’s contemporary cuisine.
The United States is the world’s foremost producer and consumer of dried beans. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, American farmers cultivate more than 1.5 million acres of edible dried beans annually. Approximately sixty percent of the beans grown in the United States are used domestically. The rest are shipped to international markets around the world.
Why are dried beans such an integral part of our diets? It’s simple. Dried beans are versatile, healthy and inexpensive. They are used to make spreads and dips. They are used in stews, soups and sauces, and can also be pressed into cakes and biscuits. A typical (1/3 cup) portion of cooked beans contains approximately 80 calories and is packed with nutrients such as B vitamins, potassium, and dietary fiber.
Soaking Dried Beans
Preparing dried beans for the dinner table requires a bit of time, but not too much effort. The first step is soaking the beans before cooking. There are four effective methods to soak dried beans. Choose the soaking method which best meets your time and planning requirements.
Traditional slow soak method: Add one pound of dried beans and 10 or more cups of water to a stockpot. Cover the pot and refrigerate for a minimum of six-to-eight hours, or overnight. Drain and rinse the beans before cooking.
Hot soak method: Bring 10 cups of water to a boil in a stockpot. Add one pound of beans and return to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat, cover tightly. Allow the beans to soak at room temperature for two or three hours. Drain and rinse beans before cooking.
Quick soak method: Add one pound of dried beans to 10 cups of boiling water. Return to a boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside for one hour at room temperature. Drain and rinse beans before cooking.
No-Gas soak: In a stockpot, bring 10 cups of water to a rolling boil. Add one pound of dried beans. Boil for 2-3 minutes, remove from heat and set aside at room temperature. Let the beans sit overnight. Up to 90 percent of the indigestible sugars will dissolve into the soaking water overnight. Drain and thoroughly rinse beans before cooking.
Cooking Beans After Soaking
Cooking your beans is a relatively easy process. Just follow this procedure:
1. Make sure the soaked beans are thoroughly rinsed before returning to the stockpot and covering with at least three times their volume of water. Add any herbs and spices (but not salt) you desire.
2. Bring the beans and water to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat and gently simmer until the beans are tender. Cooking time will vary depending upon the bean variety, but start checking after 45 to 60 minutes. Do not let the water boil while cooking the beans. Boiling beans will split and break their skins, leaving you with a mushy, unappetizing finished product.
3. Drain the beans after they are tender. Eat them as a side dish or use them in your favorite recipes. If you want to save some or all of your beans for later use, immerse them in cold water until they are completely cool, then drain and freeze in 1-to-2 cup packages.
Bonus Bean Tips
Do not add salt or acidic ingredients such as tomatoes, vinegar, of juice. These will slow the cooking process. Add these ingredients when the beans are just becoming tender.
Beans are fully cooked when they are tender enough to be easily mashed between two fingers or with a fork. Always test a few beans to be certain the batch evenly cooked.
After soaking rinse the beans and sort through them to remove any broken, discolored or shriveled beans or small stones that may have been mixed in the package.