Let’s talk beans.
I am a super cheapskate when it comes to some things. For example, I absolutely hate buying bread because basically all it consists of is flour, water, yeast, a tiny amount of sugar and salt, and those things are so cheap to buy! I’d rather make my own for various reasons, but the major problem I run into constantly is that bread takes a lot of time and attention, so sometimes when I am really busy I have to suck it up and just go buy a loaf.
Beans are another category of food where I am super cheap. Canned beans are expensive, tend to be high in sodium, and they are also super heavy to carry home; however, dried beans are $cheap$ and easy to use, take up less room in the cupboard, require less packaging, and buying them in quantity generally doesn’t make your arms feel like they are going to fall off when you are trying to only make just one trip from the car to the front door after grocery shopping. Again, they take time, but unlike bread, they do not have to be watched or pampered.
Using dried beans does require a certain amount of calculation though, to make sure that you end up with the amount that you need once they are soaked and cooked. Dried beans tend to plump up by a factor of 3, so as a basic rule of thumb, if you need 3 cups of cooked beans for a recipe, then you need to start with one cup of dried.
I have found that with smaller beans (like navy beans), they cook up to slightly less than 3 times their original size, so I usually add a few extra dry beans to account for that.
Some useful numbers, pulled from http://www.centralbean.com:
- One 15-ounce can of beans = one and one-half cups cooked beans, drained
- One pound dry beans = six cups cooked beans, drained.
- One pound dry beans = two cups dry beans.
- One cup dry beans = three cups cooked beans, drained.
- Use 3 cups of water per cup of dry beans for soaking.
YOU MUST SOAK YOUR BEANS BEFORE COOKING!
The longer you soak, the less cooking time they will need, and the less potentially gassy you will be upon eating them. Soaking overnight generally means about an hour of cooking time.
You can also do the quicker method, which is to boil the beans for one minute, soak for one hour, then cook for an hour.
Always discard the soaking water, rinse the beans, and cook with fresh water.
When cooking beans, do not leave the water at a rolling boil or your beans will bash into each other in the pot, their skins will come off, and they will not look as pretty. The way to do it is to initially bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down to a simmer.
Add about a teaspoon or more of salt to the cooking water, and also a tiny bit of oil. You can also tuck a bay leaf or two into the water.
A pressure cooker is a great tool to have if you cook a lot of beans. I use mine almost exclusively for beans because it is so quick. Once the pot comes up to pressure, I can cook a load of pre-soaked garbonzo beans in about 10-13 minutes; smaller beans can take as short as 7 minutes. If you have a pressure cooker, check your manual for instructions.
A slow cooker is also really great and produces beans with superior flavor and almost zero fuss. Slow cookers vary widely so definitely read your manual.
Storing Cooked Beans
If you are going to go to the trouble to soak and cook beans, why not make a big batch and stash some away for future use? If you know you are going to use your beans in about a week or so, you can store them right in the fridge. But for longer-term storage, cover them with water and freeze them in small batches so that you can pull out and thaw just the right amount when you are ready to use them.
Beans are high in protein and fiber, have zero cholesterol, and provide essential vitamins and minerals. They are also relatively low in fat and calories.
Really, when you think about it…beans are great! And there are so many varieties to choose from. What’s not to love!