Last spring we decided to plant beans—beans, as in eventual dried beans—for a new garden experience, health benefits, and future use in cooking, or as a meat substitute. Beans are a rich source of fiber and B vitamins and help reduce cholesterol, decrease blood sugar levels, and increase healthy gut bacteria.
My husband chose five different varieties—Amish Knuttle, Black Turtle, Tigers Eye, Peregion, and Garbanzo (chick peas) to plant. It was fun to watch them grow, set and fill their pods. The foliage of the first four looked very much like any other kind of bean or soybean (edamame). The garbanzo foliage was very different; the lacey, delicate leaves looked more like they belonged in a flower garden than a vegetable garden.
As fall dawned, the leaves began to yellow exposing the pods which would eventually dry and need to be picked. Enter the human harvester–me. As I spent long hours picking bean pods and later removing the beans from their pods, I had more appreciation than ever for the dried beans that I so nonchalantly pick up at the grocery store and grateful that bean farmers had mechanical harvesting equipment. Once my harvest was complete, I couldn’t help but admire the beautiful jars of beans as if they were a work of art!
Since I had such a high regard for my beans, I felt they were worthy of being cooked properly to show their unique texture and flavor. In the past, I hadn’t taken much stock in how I cooked beans; my method or lack thereof probably stemmed from a combination of whatever I haphazardly learned from my mother years ago, heard from other advisors in my life, or simply what I had time for. I soon learned there are as many ways to cook beans as there are people who cook them and many of the methods stem from ‘myths’—soak or no soak, fresh water or not, salt or no salt, lid or no lid, oven or stove top.
I was intrigued by an Epicurious article: How to Cook Beans: The Epicurious Myth-Busting Guide. The Epicurious kitchen staff experimented with pinto beans to determine the best method for cooking dried beans, debunking many of the myths surrounding bean cooking. I repeated their experiment using each of my bean varieties to determine what was best for each; in the end, regardless of variety, I had to agree with their recommendations. Quick-soaking the beans, cooking in their own water, salting them at the beginning of cooking, and cooking in a pot without a lid on the stove top resulted in beans with great texture and flavor. (Use the Epicurious link above to read more about the Epi method.)
Once the beans are cooked, they are ready for whatever comes their way. I usually cook a quantity of beans and freeze in portion containers what will not be used in 2-3 days. Frozen cooked beans can be used like a drained can of beans. Thawing is not necessary when they are used in soup or baked beans. If used in a salad, side dish, or baking, they need to be defrosted prior. Beans keep well in the freezer for about 6 months. Dried beans will generally stay at best quality for about 2 to 3 years at normal room temperature; they will remain safe to use after that but may take longer to cook and have less flavor.
How do you cook your beans?