|Back to the Table of Contents
|Oh, Those Dry Beans
|Eating Economically at the
|by Miriam Axel-Lute
|There are few things that
are as dramatic a cost savings as cooking your beans from dry--it
varies depending on which beans and your brand of canned, but it can
work out to at least three times cheaper. Plus they come with other
advantages: When you buy bulk dry beans at the Co-op, you are of course
using less packaging, and you have the option of buying grown-in-New
York beans. And by cooking them yourself, you get to choose to cook
them in stock or with other flavors.
So why don't more of us do it? Two answers: time and fear of crunchy
underdone beans, which is another way of saying time.
When you get right down to it, though, cooking beans doesn't exactly
take a lot of active time, it just takes some planning ahead-- enough
to know what you're making for dinner either the night before or by
lunch time, depending on the method you choose.
There are many approaches to cooking dry beans. Most involve soaking
them first. Though the nominal reason many people give for this presoak
is to remove some of the indigestible sugars in beans that cause gas,
that only happens a small amount and if you eat beans regularly your
body will adjust to those sugars any way. The real reasons are to clean
off residue from the beans (they not washed after harvesting) and
shorten the cooking time, which saves energy and nutrition. Smaller,
softer beans like lentils don't need soaking.
Soaking can be done in about 4 hours, in cold water that covers the
beans by a few inches. If you really want to get more of those sugars
out, parboil the beans for 10 minutes first before turning off the heat
and letting them soak. Many people soak beans overnight, but in most
cases starting them soaking in the morning as part of your morning
routine will have them ready to cook in plenty of time.
And here's a secret: If you forgot until just a few hours before you
need to be cooking--most beans will cook just fine unsoaked. Rinse,
cover with water to spare, bring to a boil and simmer for a couple
hours. For cooking, the traditional approach is on the stovetop, in
water or vegetable/meat stock/bouillon, with a little fat for flavor
and to reduce the chances of boiling over.
Using a pressure cooker reduces cooking time dramatically. (Fans of
cooking beans in a pressure cooker caution against trying to cook
unsoaked beans in them though, as they cook unevenly and gum up the
The timing will depend on the type of bean. For both stovetop and
pressure cooking times, as well as whether soaking is needed or not,
check out this handy chart: http:// weblife.org/beanchart.html. Beans
that are a couple years old may dry out further and change composition
in a way that makes them very hard to cook--they may take up to twice
as long to cook, if they do at all. So if you're buying very large
amounts, be sure to rotate your stock and use up the oldest first.
Another option is using a crockpot. This takes a long time (overnight
soak, rinse, cover to 2–3 inches, 8 hours on low), but unlike stovetop
cooking, you can leave the house safely while it's happening. So
throwing it together in the morning (or overnight if you want to cook
early the next day) can set you up to cook a meal as soon you get
home/wake up, with no additional bean cooking step beforehand.
Beans cooked from dry can be frozen for a couple months if you make a
big batch. However, you still need to think ahead enough to be able to
thaw them slowly the night before.
Once your beans are tender, don't just throw out the cooking liquid,
even if you're not planning to make a bean soup. Bean stock will keep
for a couple days in the fridge, and it can add some taste, heartiness,
and nutrition as a cooking liquid for grains (just use a little more
than you usually would to account for the solids in the bean stock).
|Back to the Table of Contents