Beans are incredibly versatile and economical. My pantry is stocked with cans of beans I bought, and my freezer is stocked with bags of beans I cooked. If I can find quality canned beans on a good deal, I stock up. If I have the time but not the money, I cook my own.
Once you see how easy it is to cook beans from scratch, it will give you one more way to stretch your grocery bucks as far as they can go. After all, thawing a bag of beans is every bit as easy as cranking open a can. Like I read on one online forum, “Beans in the freezer are like money in the bank.” Now that’s my kind of math. And the added bonus? Not only do you spend less money, but you also control the ingredient list.
Beans are high in protein and low in fat. They are a great source of soluble fiber which helps remove harmful cholesterol from your body before it’s absorbed. Incorporating beans into your diet can help lower your cholesterol and reduce your risk for heart disease, heart attacks, and breast & prostate cancer. In fact, studies have found Hispanic women have half the risk of breast cancer as white women. Researchers attribute this, in part, to the high quantity of legumes in their diet. Cool beans.
The ingredient list in most commercially canned beans is actually pretty basic: water, beans, and salt. Most brands also contain calcium chloride which is a firming agent, and many brands include sugar which is just wrong. I’m not interested in debating this topic, but if you’re looking to cut down on BPA consumption in canned products and can’t find an affordable option, cooking dried beans is a great place to start.
Price & Quality
There is a reason Dave Ramsey advocates a “beans and rice” diet when counseling people out of debt. It’s cheap. You can find canned black beans at Winco for as low as 60 cents a can. Dried black beans are even cheaper than this. Winco sells their generic bags for 90 cents a pound.
One pound of dried beans = about six cups of cooked beans. Six cups for around $1!
The bulk section is often an even better deal. Fred Meyer, Winco, and Bob’s Red Mill are all good options, depending on your budget and your taste. If you order through Azure Standard, their selection is very similar to Bob’s, but their prices are cheaper. Look for a store with a high turnover rate to ensure the freshest products and the best results.
Of course, if we’re debating quality, canned beans can’t even begin to compare with the flavor and texture you get from cooking them from scratch. So let’s get started.
This soaking & cooking method will work for any bean that requires a long cooking time such as black-eyed peas, garbanzo beans, cannellini beans, pinto beans, etc. Pretty much anything but lentils.
How to Soak and Cook Dried Beans
Pour the dried beans onto a rimmed baking sheet. Pick out any cracked or wrinkled beans, as well as any small stones or dirt.
Dump the beans into a colander and rinse with cold water.
Put the rinsed beans in a large bowl and cover with several inches of cold water. Soak overnight, around 6-8 hours.
There are a couple different reasons for soaking beans before cooking them:
- It helps them cook faster. The larger the bean, the longer the soak. The longer they soak, the faster they cook.
- It leaches out carbohydrates that our bodies cannot digest. When beans move through our lower intestine, bacteria breaks down what our digestive enzymes can’t, resulting in gas. One author called it “digestive difficulties.” My 2-year old calls it something else, but we won’t get into that.
Soaking isn’t absolutely necessary and some people avoid it, saying it also removes vitamins and minerals. Personally, I’m all about cutting down on cooking time and “digestive difficulties.” I’ll get those vitamins and minerals from other sources, thank you very much.
In the morning, pour out the water and rinse the beans. Black beans will be pleasantly plump and purple.
Pour the beans into a wide, heavy pot and cover with about two inches of water. Place over medium-high heat.
If you want to add any herbs, vegetables, or spices to kick up the flavor, this is a good time. Don’t add any salt yet because it will prevent them from absorbing water, slowing down the cooking process. Wait until the end when the beans are tender.
The water will quickly turn black and foam will come to the surface. Scoop off the foam and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer on low. If you prefer using the oven, you could also bake the beans at 300 degrees. Check them as they cook, adding more water if needed.
Cook until tender, anywhere from 40 minutes to 1.5 hours, depending on the variety.
Black beans usually take around 50 minutes. Although they cook pretty quickly, you are not going for speed here. Your goal is a nice, easy simmer. Sample a few beans before removing them from the heat. You want them to be tender but not mushy.
Remove from the heat and sprinkle with salt, if desired.
Let the beans cool in the cooking water, absorbing the salt as they cool. This will give them better texture and flavor. If you want to keep the cooking water, it can be used like a bean broth and added to vegetable soups to boost the flavor.
Cool the beans completely, split into small containers or bags, and freeze. Store the cooked beans, covered, in the refrigerator for up to four days or in the freezer for up to six months.
If I am using the beans on a salad or in a wrap, I thaw them under warm water or in the microwave. If I am making chili or soup, I just toss the frozen beans directly in the pot.
So there you have it : sort, soak, rinse, cook, salt, cool, freeze. See? Those bags of dried beans really aren’t as intimidating as they may seem. You can do this! Your wallet and your taste buds will thank you.
Want to read more? Amazon has Bean by Bean: A Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon (no joke) in stock and ready to ship!
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