Beans are delicious, beans are healthful, beans are inexpensive protein, and we should all eat more beans.
That’s beans made from scratch, not canned beans, which have a lot of sodium and a mushier texture. (But, let us hastily add: It’s better to eat canned beans than no beans).
Beans can be added to green salads, served as sides with everything from breakfast eggs to dinner meats. They purée beautifully into dips (try this white bean dip recipe or this white bean bruschetta).
But some people have trouble cooking beans. Here are tips from Steve Sando, proprietor of Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Food. Steve scours the Americas for the finest small-batch, artisan beans. Some are so beautiful, you just want to keep them as decoration in glass jars.
SOAKING THE BEANS
If your beans are taking forever and a day to cook, the first question to ask is whether you are soaking them or not. A good soak should last from four to eight hours or overnight.
Soaking rehydrates the beans, which begin to lose their moisture as soon as they are harvested.
Chili with beans. Photo courtesy Ninja Kitchen.
Fresh-harvested beans can be cooked without soaking. Otherwise, you need to reintroduce moisture so the beans will cook faster. When rehydrated, the beans will double in size.
Some people have a magical situation where they don’t need to soak their beans, yet they still cook in a reasonable amount of time. But if you have planned ahead and have the time, by all means soak your beans. In addition, soaked beans generally have a more pleasant texture when cooked.
The big question is whether or not to change the soaking water prior to cooking. Old timers insist on changing the water, which gets rid of the water-soluble oligosaccharides that can cause gas.
But you are also tossing out vitamins, minerals and pigments. As Harold McGee says in his seminal work, On Food and Cooking, “That’s a high price to pay.” If gas is really an issue (and from what we hear, and we hear it all, it isn’t), try cooking your beans for longer—or pick up some Beano.
Warm Tuscan white bean salad with lemon-
THE INITIAL RAPID BOIL
More than anything, advises Steve Sando, this is the key to how long beans cook. Whether you are using the soaking water, new water, aromatic broth or some combination, you want to bring the beans and liquid to a full-on boil.
Then, boil for 10 minutes (15 minutes for big, starchy beans or varieties known to take a long time to cook). Then turn the heat to low and allow the beans to cook at a very gentle simmer.
After one hour, check the beans for doneness. Depending on age, size and variety, beans can take anywhere from an hour to three hours to cook through. Add more water as needed to keep an inch of water on top of the beans; stir occasionally.
Low and slow is the way to go. If you’re short on time, you can increase the heat to a gentle boil, but you will compromise the texture of the beans.
Salt: If you’re having persistent trouble getting your beans to cooking, refrain from adding salt or acids until the beans are soft. It may be an old wives’ tale, but it helps some people.The best time to add the salt is when the beans are al dente.
Adding baking soda: The alkaline in baking soda can help break down tough beans, but it can also make the beans feel slimy or soapy. Steve doesn’t recommend it, but does suggest Sal Mixteca (Mixteca salt), which is naturally high in bicarbonates that will actually soften your beans. Just a bit at the beginning of cooking will speed things up if you’re having trouble. It’s like the old trick of adding baking soda, but without the off taste and texture.
Water: The problem might be your water, if you have especially hard water. The solution: Buy a water filtration system (like Brita) and use the filtered water for soaking and cooking.
EASY RECIPE: BEANS ON TOAST
Readers of British mysteries will find frequent mentions of “beans on toast,” a common breakfast, lunch or dinner item.
“I’ve heard that the British love beans on toast, only it’s usually canned beans [in tomato sauce] on plebian white toast,” says Steve Sando. “Here’s my version:”