Monday, October 27, 2008

Bean basics

I grew up in Texas and ate lots of beans, so I knew how to cook beans like some kids know how to make a bowl of oatmeal. If you know how to cook beans, they are just as easy (cheap and healthy, too) as a bowl of oatmeal. Here are a few important things everyone should know about cooking beans:
  1. Harder water makes for a longer cooking time for beans. (I always know when our water softener has run out of salt because my beans don't cook!)
  2. Do NOT put salt in any beans until they are done, because salt slows down the cooking time horribly -- they will eventually cook, but it will take hours and hours.
  3. Do NOT add tomatoes to beans until they are done cooking -- same reason. The acid in the tomatoes will slow down the cooking.
  4. You should pour your dry beans on the table and pick through them to make sure there are no small stones or dirt clods before washing them in a colander and then cooking them.
  5. All beans should be soaked at least a few hours in hot water or overnight in cold water to make them cook faster -- except split peas and lentils, which cook fine without pre-soaking. You can usually get away without pre-soaking if you're using a crock pot and will be cooking them all day.


Gizmo said...

Thanks for the tips. I will be adding more bean dishes to our menu over the Winter months.

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

My mom the dietitian says that the salt and tomato acid doesn't slow the cooking, per se, but instead keeps the starches from breaking down as fast. In other words, the beans cook in the same amount of time but keep their shape - which is what you want sometimes (think nice, firm kidney beans or garbanzos in minestrone)

Deborah said...

I think we're saying the same thing. "Breaking down the starches" in beans is basically what happens when they're cooked. I used to have trouble with my beans cooking sometimes, but I never connected the dots. Sometimes I'd cook the beans by themselves, and sometimes I'd add stuff at the start of cooking, but I never thought that might have made a difference. Then my daughter read a book about cooking chemistry, and it said that hard water, salt, and acids (like tomatoes) slow down the cooking -- or breaking down of the starches. Since I have stopped putting salt and tomatoes in the water at the start of cooking, I haven't had any trouble.

I've heard other people complain about not being able to cook beans and offered this information in case that is their problem. I remember having kidney beans that still were NOT done at 10:00 p.m., and I watched my family dinner fall apart as various members started grabbing things from the frig to snack on. This ridiculously slow cooking time may have been due to salt, tomatoes, AND hard water!

I think the water plays a very big part because I never had trouble before moving out here. I've experimented with bottled water, and the beans cook faster. However, if I leave out the salt and tomatoes, I can still use my well water.

When it comes to the final product, kidney beans and garbanzos tend to be firm beans, whereas pintos, black beans, and small white beans are more fragile, so if you want a bean you can sink your teeth into, don't try the smaller beans. This also means that the kidney beans and garbanzos are more sensitive to the salt, acids, and hard water.


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