Beans, beans, the magical fruit…
School yard rhyme aside, you really should be eating beans at every meal. Beans are super high in fiber, protein and lots of vitamins. And they are tasty, inexpensive and filling, making them the ideal food for those trying to keep their food budget under control. They really are a super food.
But many are intimidated by the thought of cooking with beans. So their bean-cooking experience is limited to using canned beans. Now using canned beans is convenient. The canned beans still have all that nutrition going for them. But the flavor is not as great and canned beans are about four times more expensive than dry beans.
For flavor and cost, nothing beats dry beans, so let’s take the mystery out of cooking with them.
The main thing to understand is that dry beans are, well, dry. That’s why you can store them forever. But it’s also one of the main obstacles to using them every day. Before you can make a meal from beans you have to re-hydrate them. There are several ways to do this.
To properly re-hydrate, you will need 3 to 4 cups of water for each cup of beans. Usually I’ve found that 3 cups is fine, but it’s not a bad idea to have a little extra. You can always cook it down or pour it off.
Soaking. This is the most common way, the way that’s been used for centuries. Just put your beans in a bowl, cover them with water, using the 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of beans to water. Soak overnight, 8-10 hours. After soaking, they will need another 30-45 minutes of cooking to be tender enough to eat. The biggest drawback to this is that you have to plan your meal ahead and then actually remember to soak the beans.
Fast Soak. If you forgot to soak your beans overnight, you can do what’s called a fast soak. Just put the beans into a pot with the same 3:1 ratio of water and beans and bring to a boil. Boil one minute and remove from the heat. Cover and let soak for one hour. Then proceed to cook as if you had soaked them overnight.
Pressure Cooker. This is my favorite method*. Put the dry beans and water into a pressure cooker. Put the lid on and bring to pressure. Once the cooker is up to pressure, turn down the heat just enough to maintain the pressure and cook for 25-35 minutes. Most beans will cook up in 25 minutes. Larger beans will take 30 minutes and garbanzo and navy beans will take 35 minutes.
While the beans are cooking you can prep all your other ingredients so that by the time the beans are cooked, all you have to do is add the remaining ingredients and dinner is ready in just a few minutes.
*Even though the pressure cooker is my absolute favorite method to cook beans, there is one drawback to it. I’ll get to that in a little bit.
Save more time
The soaking and cooking part is the most time consuming part of using beans. It’s why we like to use canned beans: just open the can and you have a meal in no time. There are two ways that you can have the convenience of canned beans with the economy of dry beans.
Freezing. Cook up a big batch of beans in the pressure canner. It takes the same amount of time whether you cook one cup or six cups. So why not cook up six cups at a time? Beans double or triple in size when they are cooked, so see whatever the capacity of your pressure cooker is and cook as much as it will accommodate. Portion them out in 1-quart freezer bags. I like to put two cups into each bag with some liquid because that is about the equivalent of a can of beans. Label the bags and freeze them for future meals. I especially like to do this with garbanzo beans. We love hummus at our house and it’s so easy to just whip up a batch if all I have to do is thaw out a bag of frozen beans.
Canning. If you like the convenience of canned beans, can a bunch up yourself. Since beans are a low-acid food they need to be pressure canned. Add ground beef, tomato sauce and chili powder and you’ll have a tasty batch of ready-to-eat chili beans. Even with the time and energy you put in to canning them, it’s still very economical compared to buying canned beans at the store.
Whenever you have a recipe that calls for canned beans, use one of these methods and replace those canned beans with dry beans. You’ll save a lot of money and the flavor and texture are so much better.
The embarrassing part
OK, now we come to the embarrassing part of eating beans: gas. Many people have a reaction to beans that, well, alerts others to what you had for lunch.
There are two reasons for this: The first is fiber. Fiber is actually healthy for you. It’s one of the reasons you should be eating beans. A diet high in fiber can help prevent certain cancers and improve diabetes. It gives a feeling of satiety which means that it’s helpful for losing weight. But the small intestine can’t process fiber very well and that’s where the trouble starts.
The solution? Get yourself accustomed to fiber. You really should be eating more fiber anyway. In countries where beans are a central part of the diet, gas just isn’t that big of a problem. That’s because they’ve become accustomed to the high fiber in beans. You should do the same.
Gradually introduce foods high in fiber into your diet. Start with fresh (uncooked) fruits and vegetables and then add whole grains. Then start with bean dishes where beans are not the main ingredient. Gradually increase the amount of beans in each meal until the fiber is well-tolerated.
The second factor
The other reason beans produce gas is because they contain a sugar (oligosaccharide) that humans cannot digest. There are several ways to solve this problem:
The best thing to do is soak the beans and before cooking discard the soaking water. This will remove about 75% of the sugars.
Remember how I told you there was one drawback to cooking beans in the pressure cooker? Well, this is it. Since you don’t soak when pressure cooking, there’s no way to discard the soaking water. You will get rid of some of the sugars when you drain and rinse the cooked beans, but not nearly as much as if you drain the soaking water.
So if you really want to cook with the pressure cooker, here are some other methods to prevent gas:
*Take a digestive aid like Beano. It contains alpha-galactosidase, an enzyme that helps to digest the oligosaccharides.
*Cook beans with kombu, a type of dried seaweed used in Japanese cuisine. Like the digestive aids, kombu is high in alpha-galactosidase, and so will help with that sugar.
*Put a spoonful of fennel seeds or fresh ginger into your beans as they cook. Ginger is an especially good one, because it compliments most bean recipes.
*If you’re really adventurous, try adding a pinch or two of asafoetida to your bean dishes. Asafoetida (or in Hindi, hing) is a staple ingredient in many Indian bean and lentil dishes. As the name implies, it smells pretty nasty. But it loses its pungency when you fry it in a bit of oil. It imparts a savory flavor to the dish, something similar to onions and garlic.
Asafoetida is known to be quite helpful at curbing gas caused by eating legumes. Thankfully, a little goes a long way. Just be sure to store the powder in a jar with a tight-fitting lid so it doesn’t stink up your kitchen.
*Finally, not all beans have the same gas-producing potential. Lentils and light-colored beans, like black-eyed peas do not have as much oligosaccharides. Darker colored beans, like kidney and black beans have more. That’s why in Brazil, where everyone eats rice and beans every day, parents first introduce light-colored beans into their children’s diet before feeding them a black bean feijoada. If none of these other tips work for you and gas is still a problem, you may want to just stick with light-colored beans.
Odds and ends
Here are some other things that are helpful to know about cooking with beans:
*As beans age they can get super dry and will not easily re-hydrate. You might be able to re-hydrate these old beans by soaking them overnight and then pressure cooking. If that doesn’t work, then they’re no longer good for cooking. But don’t throw them away! Grind these beans into a powder and use in baking or as a thickener.
*Acid and salt can keep beans from becoming tender while cooking. So add vinegar, lemon juice and tomatoes to the pot once the beans are tender. Add salt at the very end of cooking.
*The liquids in the bean dish will absorb more fiber as the dish cools. That means that the dish will be a lot thicker if you have leftovers. That same fiber will also absorb the salt, so when you reheat yesterday’s bean dish, you may need to add more liquid and re-season everything.
*Like other legumes, lentils have all the protein and other good nutrition that beans do. But unlike beans, lentils do not need to be soaked. The
regular brown lentils you buy in the store will cook up in about 15-20 minutes. Black or French lentils may take longer, 20-30 minutes. Smaller lentils, like red lentils, cook in 10 minutes or less. Lentils will double, maybe even triple, in size when cooked.
Now, armed with all this information about beans, you are ready to become a bean connoisseur. Check some of the bean recipes on the recipe page and start making beans a regular part of your menu.