Beans, for better and for worse, are the darling of the plant-based protein world. They are the means by which many of us get significant amounts of protein, not to mention a strong stock of dietary fiber and a slurry of vitamins and minerals. They are the bulk of many meals, filling our bellies with something that sticks.
Even so, beans sometimes have a downside. Namely, when from a can, they are often packed with sodium, overcooked and possibly packing preservatives. They also have the rather laughable quality of causing excess flatulence, something that can be fun for a night but, when they are consumed regularity, well, just gets embarrassing.
In light of these facts, we have convened here today to discuss the means by which to make our beans the best they can be. It’s not that we don’t already love our legumes, but we simply want to harness the powers and delight in them just that much more. So, here are five tips for doing that.
For those of us with pressure cookers and not so much time (or forethought), it is very easy to find ourselves skipping this step. However, this is a serious offense in the subtlest of ways, as it is in the skipping of the soaking that our beans become a digestive issue. But, it’s not just that.
Soaking provides a wealth of advantages. It softens dried beans so that they cook more quickly, literally taking hours off of the cooking time. What’s more important is that soaking gets rid of anti-nutrients, like phytic acid, which inhibit our digestion (causing that trademark gaseous issue) and block our absorption of many good things in beans.
Try soaking them for twelve hours or more in water with a couple tablespoons of apple cider vinegar or lemon juice. It’ll make a world of difference.
2. Sizing Up
Most of us can readily acknowledge that cooking dry beans is a better choice than using canned beans, but the reality is that we often don’t need a whole bag of dried beans for dinner and that’s a lot of effort (not really, though!) for a couple of servings of beans. That’s why, when cooking our beans, we should cook more.
That’s right! Too many beans for tonight, then why not make more? It’ll make all the preparation efforts pay off multiple times. They’ll store well in the fridge for days, soaking up flavors and developing more complexity. They can be drained and tossed into salads, or they can be blended into creamy soups, whizzed into dips, and on and on.
Another way to size up is to make sure to use an adequately sized pot with a heavy bottom. Providing plenty of space, rather than crowding them in, allows each individual bean to cook evenly.
Nothing says delicious like flavor, and beans are a beautiful vessel for carrying those tantalizing tastes. Season beans from the get-go so that they are absorbing hints of this and that all along the way. Cook them with seasoning vegetables like onions, carrots, celery and garlic, and their taste profile will be that much richer.
This is a time to put that spice and herb rack to good use. On their own, beans can be rather bland, so style each pot with herbs and spices that suggest the type of cuisine that’s on the menu. Put them in before the beans are boiling and they’ll permeate into the creamy goodness at the center of the legume.
Smoky beans are usually quite the crowd-pleaser, and that can be done with just spoonful of liquid smoke. It’ll make barbecues that much more amazing.
In the wrong situation, when things in the pot or pressure cooker get a little too arid, beans will burn, so it is important to keep the water level adequate. Unlike rice or grains, where the goal is to have all the water disappear, with beans, this spells disaster. The goal is to keep the beans swimming.
A bubbling pot of beans is a great thing, but one in which the water has all cooked away will result in a thick coating of mushy, burnt beans at the bottom of the pot. Not to mention, the individual beans then don’t all have the opportunity to cook fully and evenly. Keep the pool full, and drain the water at the end.
It’s never a bad idea, in any savory dish like this (or in those aforementioned grains), to use stock or broth as opposed to water. It’ll make the flavor that much more intense.
Okay, so this one is a personal favorite, learned from my mother and grandmother, both of whom are topflight Louisianan cooks with a lifetime of experience in this game. I — like most in the State — grew up on beans and rice, and this is the way I like them.
I cook the beans to the softer side of done such that they easily squish into a paste, as one might do when cooking garbanzos for hummus. Drain the water to about a level with the top of the beans, maybe a bit higher, and I start smushing them with a spoon against the side of the pot so that the some of the beans make a sort of creamy sauce. It’s the most amazing way to make red beans and rice.
In my humble opinion, the smushing method is also key to a good homemade chili. It’ll make it thick and saucy and provide a better mouth feel.
As well, don’t forget how versatile beans can be. They make great sauces. They make creamy dips, amazing veggie burgers and, when milled into flour, even nice crackers and bread. And, that is why they are “the magical fruit.”
Lead image source: Rajmah – Indian Red Beans