01 September 2009

Cooking Beans

This is not a big entry full of ideas or opinions. That sort of posting will resume soon, I hope, as temperatures drop and my brain becomes agile again. In the meantime, enjoy the waning days of summer and consider the virtues of humble legumes.

We all know that beans are good for you, full of fibre and protein and all that good stuff. And we know that cooking dry beans at home is cheaper, tastier, and possibly more environmentally friendly than buying canned beans.

On the other hand, cooking dried beans is not quick and, we suspect, not easy. Given the number of superstitions, of 'dos' and 'don'ts' that wreathe the process, it appears to involve dark sorcery of some kind. It's enough to drive you straight to the canned goods aisle.

What I know about black magic very literally doesn't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world, but I know the following method of cooking and freezing beans works delightfully well.

Soak overnight:

1 gallon water
3 tbs table salt
1 lb beans

Drain, rinse, and place beans in a wide, shallow, ovenproof container. Add two tablespoons of your choice of fat -- olive oil works well, as does lard -- plus any herbs or aromatics you desire. Cover the beans with cold water to a depth of two inches, cover your pot, and cook in a 250 F oven until the beans tender. How long 'until tender' takes will depend on the beans; start checking them after about 40 minutes, but it can take as long as 2 hours. Remove from oven and allow to cool in cooking liquid, then package in small containers and freeze. The beans can be thawed and used exactly as you'd use canned beans.

1 lb of dry black beans makes about 6 cups of cooked beans, or 12 half-cup servings. Other varieties of beans may make a greater or lesser volume.

Bonus benefit: you are not limited to storing your cooked beans in 15-oz increments (the size of most cans). You can pack them away in whatever quantities you prefer. I tend to portion them into 1-cup packages, since two servings is about what I need of any given meal.

Bonus beans-and-rice making tip: cook your rice as you normally would, in a pot or rice cooker. When the rice is almost done, toss your thawed beans (in an ideal universe, you have let them come to room temperature while the rice cooks) onto the surface of the rice. Cover the pot/rice cooker again and leave the beans to steam on top of the rice. If using a pot on the stovetop, turn off the heat when the rice is cooked and leave to sit for about 5 minutes (you should do this anyway, even if you aren't cooking beans too), then season as desired, toss the beans and rice together, and serve. If using a rice cooker, it will turn itself off for you, so all you need to do is let it sit for 5 minutes and then proceed with the seasoning and serving.

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