Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Beans, finally

I'm having to pinch myself to stay awake. Not sure why I've had so much trouble writing the bean section, seeing as how much I love beans.

I finally came up with a decent quick curry recipe today. Though, lunch's iteration came out better than dinner's, which was pepto-bismol pink and has an unfortunately stringy texture.

Gads, the last 10% of any project takes 80% of the time, doesn't it?


Few foods feed us so well for so little cost. Canned beans (#) are reasonably inexpensive and convenient, while dry beans cost pennies, and are simple to cook, if you have the time (recipe #). Beans can be cooked on the weekend and stored in the refrigerator to make quick meals with during the week. But better still, cooked beans can be frozen, for use at any time (recipe #).

Canned beans

Canned beans are cooked and ready to eat right from the can. Some people swear that the beans should be drained and washed in order to minimize gas, but you can cook with the water from the can if you want to. Be aware that canned beans contain a lot of salt.

Boiled beans

Nothing could be simpler than cooking dry beans: simply cover them with water, put a lid on the pot, and set them to a simmer or a low boil. Stir every 20 minutes or so. Cook with a lid on to keep too much water from evaporating. Add extra water to the pot if the beans seem to be crowded. Taste a bean every so often. When the beans are as soft as you like, use them in any recipe that calls for cooked or canned beans.

6 or more cups water
2 cups (1 pound) dry beans
1 tsp salt (optional)

There are many types of beans. Each type of beans has its own cooking time. Additionally, the older the beans are, the longer that they will take to cook (and the less nutritious they will be). This makes it tough to judge how long it will take to cook a pot of beans. Unless you are cooking lentils, which can take as little as a half hour to cook, assume it will take at least two hours to cook your beans.

Beans need to be rinsed before cooking, to remove dust. You should also sort through them before cooking to remove any pebbles or other agricultural debris that may have jumped into the bag. Also take out any beans that look particularly shriveled, discolored, or otherwise unfit to eat.

Cooking time can be reduced somewhat by soaking the beans overnight in cold water, but this is not a necessary step.

Most cooks will swear that adding salt to a pot of beans will cause the beans to take longer to cook. However, chef Mark Bittman has tested pots of beans side-by-side, one with salt, the other without, and reports that both pots of beans finished cooking at the same time. But if you want to add salt to the pot, and you wish to cover your bases, you can always wait and add salt then the beans are mostly cooked.

Beans double in size when cooked, more or less, so if you cook two cups of dry beans, you will get about four cups of cooked beans. One pound of beans is about two cups of dried beans.

Once your beans are cooked, you have several options. You can drain the beans in a colander, or you can keep them in the cooking water. (The cooking water can be useful for making soup or stew.) You can immediately turn some or all of the beans into soup or any other recipe. You can refrigerate the beans with or without their cooking water for use in recipes over the next five days or so. Or you can freeze the beans indefinitely.

Run cool tap water over your drained beans to cool them before moving them to the refrigerator or freezer.

Frozen beans

Cooked beans freeze beautifully. If you drain them, you can put them into one big freezer-safe bag or box, and then later use a butter knife to break off beans when you need some for a recipe. But chipping away at an iceberg of beans can be tedious. An alternative is to freeze beans (with or without cooking water) in individual serving sized containers.

Beans in soups and stews

Not only are beans tasty in soup, but if you mash them up a bit with a potato masher, they also function as a thickener. Frozen beans can be added directly to soups and stews without thawing them first. Add cooked beans at the end of cooking, if you wish the beans to remain whole and firm.

Beans in salads

Beans add a lovely heft to salads. Frozen beans need to be thawed before being used in salad - preferably in the refrigerator, but the counter will do in a pinch.

Beans in balls, patties, and loaves

Beans are fantastic in balls, patties, and loaves, particularly in meatless versions. You can add them whole and even frozen, if you are in a hurry. But for a better consistency, chop or mash the beans before adding them.

Refried beans

Beans can be “refried” by heating them in a pan with a little water, and the mashing them with a potato masher. For flavor, season with salt and pepper, and add cumin, garlic, onion, and/or taco spices (#). Or experiment with other spices.


Tofu is a soft white substance made from soy beans. It can usually be found in two varieties: firm, and “silken”, which is softer. While it can be eaten raw, tofu’s flavor is very bland, making it an excellent candidate for dishes with a strong-flavored sauce or broth. Tofu marinates well (see Baked Tofu #). And tofu makes an excellent filler in Balls, Patties, and Loaves (#), especially when you want to make the dish meat-free.

Baked Tofu

Baked tofu has a tougher texture than raw tofu. When cut into one-inch cubes and baked, the toughened tofu cubes can then withstand being stirred in curries, soups, and the like, more than raw tofu can. Baked sticks of tofu make great finger foods for young children, or for parties. Or it can be eaten as a meat substitute, cut in a slabs. Baked tofu can be refrigerated for about five days, and it can even be frozen for later.

Use firm tofu for baking - or “extra firm”, if it is available.

You can bake tofu with or without marinating it first. You can marinate tofu just like you would marinate meat: cut the tofu into the desired shape, put it in a container with a lid, and cover it with a flavorful liquid. Marinate it from thirty minutes to overnight. Discard the liquid before baking the tofu.

Rub a little oil on a baking sheet or a casserole dish, and lay the tofu out with an inch of space between cubes. If the tofu has not been marinated, sprinkle it with a little salt. Then, for one-inch cubes, bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Use tongs or a fork to flip the tofu over, and bake for another 20 minutes. Larger tofu shapes may require additional time in the oven.

No comments:

Post a Comment