How to Fall in Love with Dried Beans

“Beans are beautiful to see and wonderful to hold in your hands.”  Dan Jason.

I’m on a mission to use dried beans, they’re inexpensive and if I can save a can, that’s good.  Besides, that opaque, gooey stuff canned beans are packed in grossed me out one too many times.  So I’ve been experimenting, and I invite more experienced food adventurers to add their experiences.

Yes, dried beans are indeed beautiful – there’s such a variation in color and size.  There are approximately 13,000 beans and legumes in the world.  Imagine how many heritage seeds there must be!

My favourite is Jacob’s Cattle beans, they remind me of the colours of Hereford cattle.  Other beans you can find locally include Pinto and Soldier.  I also found a warm honey–brown Dutch Brown bean from Berwick at the Seaport Market.  Several vendors at the market carry quite a variety and supply of dried beans.  Fodder for a good conversation with the vendor.

I was amazed by the amount and variety of dried beans a grocery store near me carried, both in the health food section and Aisle 4.  Somebody’s cooking beans!  I found a bag of pinto beans from Speerville Flour Mill, NB there – certified organic, no additives, and no preservatives.  Local Source had some of Speerville’s beans as well.  Further investigation required re: availability of local beans.

The sales pitch: beans are very nutritious and high in fibre.  And tasty! Checking the ‘Nutrition Facts’ on my bag of lovely “Maritime Grown” Jacob’s Cattle Beans, (“Packed by Webster Farms Limited, Cambridge NS”) there is a whopping 76% fibre, 10% calcium and 50% iron per 125 ml.  Beans make a complete protein when combined with a grain.

Soaking Beans:

There are four ways to soak beans, depending on how far in advance you plan and how much time you have, you can decide which method of soaking will work best for you.

Traditional Slow Soak: In a stockpot, cover 1 pound dried beans with 10 cups water. Cover and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight. Drain and rinse the beans.

Hot Soak: In a stockpot, bring 10 cups water to a boil. Add 1 pound dried beans and return to a boil. Remove from the heat; cover tightly and set aside at room temperature 2-3 hours. Drain and rinse the beans.

Quick Soak: In a stockpot, bring 10 cups water to a boil. Add 1 pound dried beans and return to a boil; let boil 2-3 minutes. Cover and set aside at room temperature 1 hour. Drain and rinse the beans.

Gas-Free Soak: In a stockpot, place 1 pound of beans in 10 or more cups of boiling water; boil for 2-3 minutes, cover and set aside overnight. The next day approximately 75 to 90 percent of the indigestible sugars will have dissolved into the soaking water. Drain, and then rinse the beans thoroughly before cooking them.

Blackeyes are a little different…
The soaking/cooking method is applicable for most of the beans mentioned. However, recent experimentation has shown there is a better way for cooking blackeyes.
Rather than soaking blackeyes, cover the beans with sufficient water and boil for 3 to 4 minutes. Discard water and cook in beef, chicken, or vegetable broth. If your recipe calls for other ingredients, add them to the broth and beans mixture just as if you were cooking with plain water. Cooking time is about 45 minutes. Try it. Even long-term blackeye fans might prefer this cooking method.

(From Centre of Disease Control and Prevention)

Now, you may be groaning about the prospect of preparing beans, but actually while soaking time is involved there is very little effort required to prepare them for cooking.  And the best part is you can refrigerate soaked beans for up to 5 days in a tightly sealed container or freeze them for up to 6 months!  So you can always have some ready to go.

I know, the other concern is that of social embarrassment, but if you rinse them well after soaking that shouldn’t be a problem.
Some of my bean adventures…

I followed the directions on the bag to make Webster’s Baked Beans, a quite easy recipe.  The thing that makes me squeamish about canned baked beans is those hunks of fat with a trace of meat if you’re lucky.  So I substituted peameal bacon, which was better and the resulting dish was very good.  Then I spotted Meadowbrook Meat Market’s Shoulder Bacon at Local Source: thicker slices, quite lean – that’s what I’ll try next time!

Here’s a recipe from the classic Moosewood Cookbook.  If anyone happens to have a spare copy of this 1977 cookbook I know a very deserving person, Keltie, who would like one.

(Makes 6 servings so you may want to halve it.)

6 c. cooked or 3 cups dry pinto or kidney beans
2 c. onions
2 large cooking apples, in chunks
2c. grated mild, white cheese (Muenter or Monteray Jack are best.)
4 medium-sized fresh-chopped tomatoes
6 Tbs. dry white wine
2 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. dry mustard
salt (about 1 ½ tsp.) and pepper

Clean the (dry) beans and soak them at least 1-½ hours.  (Use a large container so they will have room to expand.  Give them plenty of water.)
Cook them in lots of water, partially covered, about 1-½ hours more, or until done enough for you. Drain off excess water.
Sauté the onion in a little butter until it is soft and clear.  Add chili mustard and mustard.  Combine cooked beans (make sure they are cooked enough.  They won’t soften much more as the bake.) with sautéed onions and all remaining ingredients.  Pour into large buttered casserole.
Cover and bake at 350 degrees 35-40 minutes.  Serve with fresh corn bread.  (They can bake together.)

Much tastier than the title might suggest!

I hope you will enjoy experimenting with beans too.  Don’t feel guilty if canned convenience is important or necessary at times, but I hope you’ll find that if you refrigerate or freeze soaked beans they will be just as easy!

Savour your food and raise a toast “To our farmers!”

Mary Ellen

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