How to Prepare and Cook Beans
Beans are an excellent source of protein, and very versatile besides. Dishes with beans can include anything from spicy to sweet: from chili to Boston Baked Beans. Cooked beans can be used as main dishes, side dishes, and some are even good in salads.
For the best nutritional boost and healthy beans, you want to begin from scratch with dried beans, not canned varieties, which are loaded with salt. This takes advance planning and time, but is not difficult in the least.
Dried beans, after simple preparation, do take several hours to cook thoroughly, but that advance planning is the key. They can be cooked in any number of ways, either baked in the oven, or put into a crock-pot (slow-cooker) all day long. If you are going to be home, and available for frequent stirring, they can also be slow-simmered on the stovetop.
The cooking method really depends upon the recipe; any recipe that calls for stovetop cooking can just as easily be done in the crock pot, while oven-baked recipes may need some adjustment in liquid content for crock pot cooking, and probably will not adapt well to stovetop methods.
Sort and Rinse
This direction is found on all commercial packages of dried beans purchased in stores. Beans grow in bushes, but mechanical harvesting methods can sometimes incorporate unwanted bits, such as small pebbles. You sure would not want to bite into a stone--that would send you away from your meal and on an emergency trip to the dentist.
What you want to do, then, is to open your package of beans, and pour a few at a time into your hand, looking for any such foreign matter. As you clear each handful, dump them into a colander or large strainer (sieve) for rinsing. (Sometimes beans can carry a little bit of dirt with them as well, so you want to rinse them off.)
Once your beans are all sorted and rinsed, you want to put them in a large pot and cover them with water to soak overnight. As they soak, they will swell up, so be sure to add enough water to allow for this so they will remain underwater. Put a lid on the pot to keep the moisture in, and any pets or dust out.
Some beans are actually somewhat toxic prior to soaking and cooking, so this is an essential part of the preparation.
At this point, you can proceed with your recipe, and just add the beans and your other ingredients. However, they will take much longer to cook this way, and there are few things more unappetizing than biting into under-cooked beans that are still semi-hard.
Par-boiling (or pre-boiling) them helps reduce the overall cooking time by softening them up a bit before they are combined with the rest of the ingredients.
A Variation on an Old Family Recipe
Check out my personal recipe for Boston Baked Beans. I’ve taken out the traditional salt pork, and made it fully vegetarian, but it still has plenty of flavor.
Usually, allow them to boil for about 20 minutes or so (depending on the type of bean). The old-fashioned way to tell if they are ready is the instruction, “boil until skins roll back when blown upon.” It’s very reliable, and I still use that method to this day when making my trademark Boston Baked Beans.
Drain and Rinse
After par-boiling, drain the beans and give a quick rinse. Now, you are ready to add the rest of the ingredients for your recipe. Use fresh water already at the boil for the water called for in your recipe. If you use other liquid instead of water, such as broth or stock, it is helpful to have that at the boiling point, as well. That way, the beans will begin cooking at once, not having been cooled down with cold liquid that must be reheated.
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Enjoy Your Beans
No matter what kind of bean recipe you are using, these first steps to prepare them remain constant.
All that is left, then, is to proceed with your favorite recipe, and enjoy!
© 2014 Liz Elias
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