Beans and legumes are among the healthiest foods you can eat. A vegetable protein, they contain fewer pesticides than animal products. They’re low in fat, and are versatile enough to absorb flavor from a wide variety of flavors and spices. With so many warnings about chemicals in canned foods, now might be the time to make the switch to home-cooked beans.
Dried beans are usually very cheap, although they take a while to cook from scratch so consider energy usage when making price comparisons. Make a large quantity and freeze to make the effort worthwhile. I’ll give a few methods.
The following instructions for cooking beans from scratch apply to kidney beans, chickpeas, dried peas, black-eyed peas, white (navy) beans, black beans, pinto beans, lima beans, fava beans, and lentils.
Dried beans often contain dirt, insects, and small stones. Sort through the dry beans with your hands or spread them out in one layer on a plate. Remove stones, then cover with water. Insects will float to the top. To check larger beans for bugs, grab a handful of soaked beans and lay them out in one layer on your palm, check, and flip to the other hand to check the underside. You may see black spots through the skin. Remove the peel to see if they are insects.
Dried beans cook faster when they have been soaked for eight hours. Split peas, lentils, and black-eyed peas do not need to be soaked.
Chickpeas, black beans, lima beans and fava beans may also not need soaking. Kidney beans, white beans and pinto beans should be soaked. To soak, place in a large bowl and place enough water to cover the beans by about two inches. Beans expand a lot during soaking. You can soak them for several days in the refrigerator, but change the water every day or two.
If you forgot to pre-soak the beans, here’s a quick substitute method: Place the beans in a pot and cover with water, an inch (2-3 centimeters) higher than the level of the beans. Boil for one minute, remove from heat, and cover. After an hour you can cook the beans in your recipe.
You can also “soak” 1-1/2 cup of beans in a large bowl in the microwave along with four cups of water. Cover and microwave on HIGH for 12 minutes, or until boiling. Set aside for half an hour, drain.
Warning: Kidney beans, butter beans, and cannellini beans must be boiled at a high temperature for ten minutes to remove a toxin that can cause illness.
Conventional Method: Drain the soaked beans and cover with 3-4 times the amount of fresh water. Shorter times are for lentils, longer are for chickpeas or kidney beans. Save the cooking water, which is wonderful for soups and sauces. One cup of dried legumes expands to 2-1/2 cups during soaking.
Experts recommend adding half a teaspoon of baking soda to make chickpeas very soft for chumus, chickpea spread. It does remove some of the nutrients, and mashing the chickpeas removes even more.
Note: Cooking times also depend on the age and qualty of the beans, and vary widely. Blow on the bean. If it’s done, the skin will come off. Or taste one to see if it’s tender.
Slow cooker: 2-4 hours on low.
Conventional pot: 60-75 minutes for beans, 30-45 minutes for peas and lentils.
Pressure cooker: 10-20 minutes.
Microwave Cooking Method and Times: The microwave leaves beans plump and colorful, with unbroken skin.
Below are the amount of beans and water to place in a covered microwave-safe bowl with high sides, to avoid boiling over. After each legume I list the amount of cooking time and standing time. Smaller legumes are harder and may take longer to cook. Cook longer if you are going to puree, less time if you will be cooking further in another dish.
- Chick peas (60+10 min.), Black-eyed peas (25 + 5 min.), white beans (30-40 min.+ 5), red kidney beans (35 + 10), black-eyed peas (25 + 5 min.), pinto beans (60 min. + 10), and lima beans (large, 25 + 5 min., small: 45 + 5 min.): 1-1/2 cups of beans/peas and 6 cups of water.
- Fava beans: 2-1/2 cups of beans and 8 cups of water. Cook for 60 minutes and let stand for 10 minutes.
- Lentils: 1-1/2 cups beans and 5 cups water. Cook for 25 minutes, no standing tme.
- Split peas, yellow or green: 2 cups peas and 6 cups water. Cook for 25 minutes, no standing time.
Beans are done when they are soft, or the skin starts to break. If you are going to cook them further in another recipe, stop cooking when they are still somewhat firm in the center.
Tip: If you want the beans very soft, like for chumus (chick-pea spread), add a half a teaspoon of baking soda to the pot for a kilogram (two pounds) of beans. But avoid this technique, which reduces the nutrients in the food.
Cooked beans can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer. To freeze, lay out in one layer on a cookie tray. Transfer to a bag or container when frozen for easy access. Or freeze in one layer in a zippered plastic bag. For best results, divide into several packages and use quickly once opened. Refrigerated beans can last up to a week if stored carefully.
Need Ideas for Those Beans? Check out these posts.
Pinto beans photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oquendo/