Bean Fest Begins!

Photograph by Luisfi

Mrs. Homegrown here:

I’ve never figured out why sometimes the body craves junk food (e.g. salt and pepper ruffle chips dipped in sour cream with a side of home baked brownies) and other times it craves good food. But fortunately for my system, I’m craving good food now. I dream about fresh cooked beans, succulent greens and garlic laden pickles. The image above makes me salivate.

Yet…dried beans are also a bit of a mystery to me. A well-cooked pot of beans is a revelation: creamy, rich, flavorful. One of my most memorable meals ever was a simple plate of black beans over white rice. The black beans just happened to be spiced to perfection with some sort of rare cumin. It was delicious beyond describing. The cook had mastered the hidden art of beans. As homey and friendly as beans are, they can be tricky. Make a couple of misteps in cooking and you end up with bland hippie slop. These days I get it right more than I get it wrong, but I’m always looking to improve.

So I’m crowd-sourcing my bean quest. Let’s celebrate the humble bean and all its possibilities. Beans are the ultimate recessionary food, after all, and we’re all looking for ways to eat better and spend less. Every Friday from now through the end of September we’re going to be posting about beans.

What I’d like to hear from readers today is bean cooking tips–do you pre-soak or long cook? Do you cook in water or broth? When do you add salt? Which herbs pair best with which beans? What are your favorite beans to cook? What would you tell a newbie bean cooker? Who taught you how to cook dried beans?

Also, throughout this month we’ll be collecting and testing bean recipes to post on Fridays. If you have a favorite dried-bean-based recipe that you’d like to share, please send it in to our email address: [email protected] We’ll test it and post about it. We promise not to be mean! This isn’t Celebrity Bean Dish Slap-Down. This is group learning.

Let Bean Fest Begin!

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24 Comments

  1. I ALWAYS soak overnight. However, now that I have my fancy new pressure canner, I might try some pressure cooked beans just to see.

    Sometimes I will cook up a whole mess of beans & then freeze some for later spontaneous bean use – at which time I usually cook them in water with virtually no salt so I can season when I use them. However, if I am making them for a specific purpose, I use broth.

    I have this white bean & bacon soup that is out of this world, and I use very little salt then, too (due to salty bacony goodness).

    When I am adding salt, I add a little at the beginning & the rest (usually some fantastic finishing salts from The Meadows) just before serving. I don’t like over-salted foods.

    I also almost always cook them in my crockpot, because then I can just walk away & forget about it for hours. I’ve never had too-mush of beans.

  2. This must be serendipity: I am cooking my first-ever homemade beans RIGHT NOW! I used pinto beans, soaked overnight, and cooked with diced onion and garlic. I think I used too much water to cook with, though; they’re a little too watery, so I’m trying to cook off some of the excess liquid.

  3. I could never cook beans well until I got my solar oven. Now they come out perfect every time and that alone has made the Global Sun Oven worth every penny. When I get up I pick the rocks out and rinse a few cups of beans, I then soak them on the counter for an hour or two. I then make sure there’s about 2″ of water covering the beans and put them out in the sun oven for the day. I check them around 2 to make sure there’s enough water in them still and then they’re done around 3. I just leave them out there until dinner time though and it doesn’t seem to hurt them any. I don’t add any spices (except hot peppers and epazote) or salt until they are completely done.

  4. I love beans though am spiced challenged. I soak them overnite with some baking soda sprinkled in to help remove the ‘gas’. Rinsed and into the crock with some chicken broth (or water) for an all day simmer.
    I cannot wait to read some of the spicey, beany, recipes!

  5. I don’t soak. I rinse, pick over for rocks, and then boil them in lots of water for two minutes and drain them. It’s supposed to make them less, um, gassy, and I think it works. Then I start the aromatics (onion, celery and carrots) in some fat (sometimes bacon, sometimes butter, sometimes olive oil) and sweat those with a little salt, and then I pour in the beans and cover double their volume in liquid (sometimes water, sometimes broth). If I start with bacon, I use water; if I start with butter or oil, I use stock. Mom taught me how- growing up in a large (7 sibs) family in the seventies (who remembers the beef shortage?), we ate a LOT of beans.

    For the person thinking about using her pressure cooker- DON’T! Bean skins get loose and can clog the vent hole, which will blow your cooker. I once tried cooking soybeans in a pressure cooker and it blew the safety valve with a huge, terrific boom! I was still shaking as I peaked around the corner into the kitchen, which was half full of steam. When the steam subsided, I could see one half of the kitchen- walls, ceiling, cupboard fronts- everything, covered in bean skins. By the time I got half of them wiped off, the other half had dried on, and now I had to really scrub at them. So learn from my very hard-learned lesson- no beans in the pressure cooker! As an aside, they also say no barley- same reason.

    I would like to see a good recipe for refritos- for some reason they are always better in restaurants than out of the can, and I want to know why and how.

  6. My family and I co-opted a recipe from a friend. My revelation was using a pressure cooker. The gist of the process is:
    1) Rinse beans in pressure cooker pot (no soaking)
    2) Cook with just beans and water for 15 minutes
    3) Take pot off and cool under water (about 1 minute)
    4) Add spices and other taste enhancers to the beans and return to the range for another 15-20 minutes of pressure cooking.
    5) Eat amazing beans!

  7. If you are looking for a recipe which requires soft, yet intact bean (more a clear soup than a mixture), and even if you don’t, you should add salt (not baking soda) to the soaking liquid (one should always soak, although I usually get lazy and do the bring to a boil and soak for an hour thing). Drain the salted water and rinse the beans and add fresh water (or other liquid ingredients, preferably unsalted); bring to a boil then place the covered container in a medium oven till they perfection is reached.

  8. I only know how to make one kind of beans really well: my grandma’s pinto beans with salt pork. She was born in Arizona before it was a state, and they cooked with what they could get or grow. I soak overnight, then render the salt pork a bit, brown onions & garlic in the fat, add pepper, deglaze with water, add the beans, boil, then simmer for a few hours until the beans are cooked to melting and the juice has reduced to a thick muddled broth. With fresh homemade bread, or frybread if I got off to a late start, it’s like I’m a little girl back in Grandma’s trailer again. Heaven. I’ve been subbing in Mayocoba (Peruano) beans lately and they are an AWESOME bean, creamy and rich and heavenly. I think I’m leaving pintos behind.

    You’ve checked out Rancho Gordo, right? I freeze in paralysis because I want to order every bean they have.

  9. A recent addition to my extended family taught me about moong dal dosas.

    Mung beans are soaked overnight and drained, maybe allowed to sprout an additional day, then pureed to form a batter. Into this batter, you add salt, maybe hot peppers and grated ginger, onion, perhaps some cumin and cilantro, and some diced, shredded, or pureed vegetables of whatever sort is abundant (zucchini works well…).

    Variations on this can be made with mung bean or garbanzo bean flour, sprouted lentils, etc. I’ve fixed too-runny batter by adding some whole wheat flour.

    This has been my first year growing mung beans, and they really do survive dry spells quite well. Presumably that also means they send out deep roots, which is always a good thing for next year’s garden. I read that they’re promiscuous nodulators, so I didn’t innoculate, and they’ve done well. Next year I might look for a climbing variety, rather than using the dwarf bush variety(ies) from the grocery bulk bin.

  10. I’m all about the dried beans. I tend to alternate weeks, one week making a bag black beans, kidney beans the next week, then garbanzo, then white beans. I keep 1 serving of each in the fridge and the rest frozen in can-like serving sizes.

    I soak overnight and cook for 3-4 hours on low heat in water with no salt. I add epazote sometimes. I spice them when I use them.

    Last week I took my first shot at pressure canning them, since I’m low on freezer space. I have 3 pints of white beans in the pantry now, I haven’t had the chance to see how they turned out yet.

  11. nothing beats silky cuban style black beans. lots of onion, garlic, cumin, sherry and a bay leaf. cook in pressure cooker and spoon over rice.

  12. I was “bean-challenged” for a long time. I just could NOT seem to figure them out – and I went through culinary school, so this was a major shortcoming in my view.

    One thing I now know for SURE is that they should be soaked at least overnight (8 hrs). For some beans this doesn’t seem to be enough. A full 24 hr soak is needed then. I usually put the bean in water to cover by a couple inches during the day, and change the water a few times before I go to bed. When I’m ready to cook, they get a rinse in a colander before going into the pot with fresh water.

    I am beginning to suspect that the pot itself has something to do with how the beans cook. I’ve had some mysteriously bad results from cooking in metal, even when it’s stainless steel. It’s not consistent though. I now prefer to cook in the ceramic crock pot, though I also still use the stainless pots that came with my solar oven when I solar cook. Beans are one of the few things that really make a crock pot worthwhile, imho.

    I don’t salt until the last hour of cooking. For seasonings I usually throw in dried onion, garlic (of course), and fresh tomato when it’s in season. Spices most commonly used include white pepper, cumin, paprika, oregano, various ground chili peppers. With white beans I’ll sometimes go with thyme/rosemary/bay. With garbanzos I often take it towards the Indian: curry powder, a little tomato paste, and maybe coconut milk at the end, top with cilantro when serving. Otherwise towards the end of cooking I often add a heaping tablespoon or two of bacon grease that I save in a jar in the freezer. It’s a good way of being frugal and not wasting anything. Not to mention it makes the beans taste sublime. Alternatively, I might add homemade guanciale or lardo to the pot at the start of cooking. But if it has to be vegetarian, then it’s likely to get a few good glugs of olive oil near the end. There’s also a fantastic line of vegan bouillon cubes, Rapunzel. I’m not generally a fan of cubed food, but this stuff is organic, no crap ingredients, and really adds a lot of good flavor to all kinds of things. I sometimes add one of those to beans, more commonly to soup for just an extra dimension of flavor.

    I second the Cuban black beans over rice, topped with scallions and a splash of vinegar. Really hard to beat. Have a look through the Bean Bible too.

  13. Beans(mostly pintos) Soak over nite or parboil for a couple of minutes and let cool covered. Change the water,cover the beans w/about 2″ water,add a chopped onion and a rehydraded chipolte(not the stuff in adobo,just an old wrinkled pepper)Simmer till skins start to split when you blow on the beans,then add salt,pepper and other flavorings.Your choice.Let the water cook down until it just covers the beans.I never use oil or drippings because beans sour more quickly,at least in my experience.When you can’t find any onion and the beans are soft they’re done.Note:if one chile is good,two are better,and six are just right.
    Refritos.Melt 2 tbls rendered hog lard in an 8″ cast iron skillet.When skillet is hot add beans and liquid (about 3/4 b to 1/4 l).Season to taste.Add a little chile powder.Mash the beans w/a potato masher till you like the texture,lower the heat and reduce the liquid until refritos are a pretty solid mass.DO NOT USE THAT STORE LARD IN THE GREEN BOX!It’s easy enough to make your own with pork trimmings.
    Beans can be overwhelmed by adding too much other stuff during cooking.Their flavor stands alone.
    Recipes from little old ladies in hot Mexican Restaurant kitchens fron San Antanio to El Paso.

  14. I’ve always heard one should never cook beans in a pressure cooker. Beans should not be salted until soft. Salt in some types of beans keeps the beans from ever becoming soft.

    I live in the deep South and ate beans all my life, salted and with pork, so beans are very familiar to me. As a young woman I decided to never season beans again. Now, I cook Great Northern Beans, Lima, Navy beans, and blackeyed peas with not a bit of salt or seasoning. The taste is not bland at all. I can actually taste the beans as opposed to the seasonings.

    While I can still appreciate the taste of pork, grease, and salt in beans, I see no reason for anything. Try it.

    I cook Pinto Beans or Kidney beans to make refried beans since I read the ingredients on a can of commercially canned refried beans. I use a tbsp of oil, dice onion and garlic, saute, add beans and mash with potato masher, add a bit of salt. These are much healthier than store-bought beans in a can.

    I never soak overnight, not wanting to encourage any fungal growth. I rinse, sort, and put beans into a pot of water, covering by several inches. I bring the beans to a boil for three minutes, cover for an hour, drain in a colander, rinse well, and cook in fresh water for the amount of time the recipe calls for. This process prevents flatulence.

    Sometimes, I eat brown rice with blackeyed peas, still with no salt in either! Honestly, beans are delicious without spices. So is salt. Together, they are divine. Maybe I just like bland hippie slop?

  15. 1. I soak overnight by preference, but when planning fails, I bring them to a boil, rest for an hour or so, then finish cooking them.
    2. I soak in salted water, but rinse before cooking.
    3. As per Alton Brown, cook in minimal water.
    4. I use baking soda when the beans are more than a year old and so tough that an overnight soak doesn’t work.
    5. I favor savory beans, so many times, when I cook the soaked beans, I add onion, garlic, and a bay leaf- be it for chili, black beans, or a Rachel Ray inspired dish. I usually don’t add all of those when making “salad” beans.

  16. You are right about the pot. My mom used a Mexican bean pot, a tall, vertical clay pot with a handle. It made the best beans you could imagine, cooked it right on the burner. I suspect its full of lead, though and I am afraid to use it. I have tried to commission a potter to make me another but no luck so far.

  17. I love to cook beans. I know many people have raved about cooking in their solar oven, and I say right on! But, if you can’t do that, I highly recommend a pressure cooker. It’s easy and extremely energy efficient. You can cook a pot of beans on your stove’s lowest setting in ten to twenty minutes that would normally have to simmer for hours. You can even do a “quick soak” that takes five minutes and avoid having to preplan beans the night ahead.
    You can cook the beans plain, and then flavor them. I’ve heard to never salt your beans until they are done, otherwise the skins never soften completely. My favorite is cuban style black beans, where I add a saute of onions, garlic, cumin, smoked paprika, ginger, nutmeg, bay leaves, lime juice, and a bit of cocoa. mmmmmmmmm

  18. Wow, people really love beans…I do too. We usually cook pinto or black beans, and sometimes peruano beans. I always soak to beans for around 6 hours. I like to soak them, after removing rocks, in the sun if I can. I then rinse the beans, and start cooking. I add salt when the beans are soft. I’ve been told that adding salt earlier makes the beans stay hard. I like to add a little oil and onion, sometimes a clove of garlic, toward the last half hour or so. As for spices, I sometimes add epazote to the pintos or black beans. Some people don’t like it, but I do. Epazote gives the beans a strong flavor, and is said to make them less gaseous. Sometimes I throw some salsa verde into the black beans, and add cut nopales, cooked in another pot. Top this off with a little queso fresco or manchego cheese, and I’m good to go.

  19. Right now the fresh Italian beans are in season… *swoon*

    Grab some from the farmer’s market – they’re still in the pod, HUGE, and swirled pink & white. They’re shaped like lima beans. The italians cooke them until they’re tender, then toss with olive oil, garlic, basil, red onion, and lemon juice, along with fresh salt & pepper. Heaven. So simple, so amazing.

  20. Best hummus ever is made with dried garbanzos. Soaked overnight, cooked til soft, then add your garlic, lemon, salt, tahini, oil and whatever else you like to flavor hummus with.
    I’ve learned it’s best to not get too “inventive” when cooking the beans. For example, boiling with some wine (for flavor, I thought) toughens the skin of the beans and they’ll never soften.

  21. ok, this post is a bit old, but here’s my advice anyway:

    for somewhat spicy, citrusy, soupy black beans (that look quite a bit like that photo), i soak black beans overnight. the next day, dump the soaking water and boil the beans in fresh water with a couple of bay leaves. in the meantime, prepare the onion/pepper mixture that will be added later. amounts will depend on your taste, but i use a couple onions, three jalapenos and about four other hot peppers (not sure what they are; they’re just labeled ‘hot peppers’ in the store here) for a big pot of beans. in a frying pan, add enough olive oil to fill the bottom of the pan. heat, then add onions and peppers. add a generous amount of salt, some cumin, and i usually add a little chili powder. saute for a couple of minutes, then add a few cloves of minced garlic. simmer until everything is cooked and the oil looks flavorful. there should be plenty of oil – if the veggies suck it up, add some more. the oil gets infused with pepper taste and is what gives the beans that shiny/creamy texture.

    simmer the beans until they are cooked but not falling apart (the time depends on the age of your beans, time soaked, etc, but it’s usually at least an hour or so for me). scoop out the cooking liquid until it is level with the beans. fish out the bay leaves. add the onion/pepper mixture you made before, along with a cup or so of orange juice, and let the whole thing simmer for at least a couple of hours, stirring occasionally. over time, you’ll see the beans cook down and get soupy and delicious-looking. at the end of cooking, adjust for seasonings and add a generous amount of lime juice and orange juice. also stir in some chopped cilantro if you like it. yum yum yum.

  22. p.s. don’t add salt to the beans at the beginning of cooking – it toughens the skin and they won’t cook properly. wait until they are cooked through.

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