I was recently asked for my favorite convenience food for an article by Kathleen Purvis in The Charlotte Observer newspaper. I immediately thought of canned beans. To be fair, as a general rule, beans don’t usually elicit a lot of enthusiasm. Steaks, oysters, delicious artichokes (I could go on and on) tend to get a lot more attention. Beans, one might argue, are boring.
I disagree. Beans are one of humanity’s oldest food sources and for good reason. While they often play a supporting role, beans paired with a grain provide all the protein that you need for a nutritionally complete meatless meal. Take into the account the facts that beans are economical and in their dried form can be preserved for years (dried beans have been found in Egyptian tombs) and it is easy to see why beans are a staple for so many people around the world.
For most of us, canned beans are the quick and easy way of getting beans into our diet. Unfortunately, while the convenience factor is high, canned beans pack a nutritional wallop when it comes to salt with one serving hovering around 20% of your daily recommended sodium intake. While rinsing the beans with water can reduce the sodium content by 40%, it’s still not ideal.
Which brings me to today’s post: a recipe for cooking dried beans. While canned beans will always be the quick and easy solution (check out the 5-Star Shortcuts article for my delicious recipe for canned “Black Beans with Orange and Chipotle”), every cook should know how to prepare dried beans. After all, the hands-on time is minimal, dried beans are more economical, and perhaps most importantly you control the salt!
Cooking dried beans requires a little advanced planning, but you can cook a bunch at once and they freeze beautifully. The first step to preparing dried beans is to pick them over for any small rocks or dirt that have found their way into the bag. While you won’t find pebbles in every bag, your teeth will thank you for at least making the effort. Once you’ve picked the beans over, rinse them under cold water and drain.
Next, soak the picked-over beans before cooking. I prefer the overnight method which involves soaking the beans in 3 times as much water as beans in the refrigerator overnight. This requires advanced planning, but don’t despair if procrastination is your modus operandi. You can also quick soak the beans by covering the beans with water (about 2 inches above the beans) and bringing them to a boil. Simmer the beans for 2 minutes then cover the beans and remove them from the heat. Allow the beans to soak, covered, for 2 hours. During soaking using either method, if any of the beans float to the top, discard them.
Regardless of what method you use, once the beans have soaked for the required time, you’ll want to drain and discard the soaking liquid. From there, you just need to cook them. The type of bean and its size will determine cooking time. Although as a general rule, I find that most beans cook in about 2 hours. (Note: The other variable is age. The older the bean the longer it will take to soften so be sure to buy dried beans from stores with good turnover.) You’ll want to cover the soaked beans with water (about 2 inches above the beans) and bring it to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat and then let the beans simmer, covered, for about 2 hours. Feel free to add garlic or herbs to the beans as they cook to give them extra flavor, but don’t add acids (i.e. citrus or tomatoes) or salt until the end as both acids and salt will prevent the beans from softening.
Once your beans have cooked, use them in any recipes that call for beans or freeze them in individual portions for later use. While I’ve taken to eating this batch of white beans with garlic and sage straight out of the pot, I have plans to toss some of them with oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes and fresh herbs for a yummy bruschetta. The remainder I may cook with some tomatoes and Italian sausage for a rustic Italian dinner or toss them into a spinach salad. Regardless of how I use them, I know they’ll be anything but boring. Bon appetit!
White Beans with Sage and Garlic – Printer Friendly Recipe
Makes about 6 cups beans
2 cups dried Cannellini beans
1 garlic clove, top cut off
A handful of fresh sage (rosemary would also be delicious)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 hot red chili pepper (optional)
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pick over the beans for pebbles and then soak them using the overnight or quick soak method (see post for a detailed description of both of these methods).
Add the soaked beans to a large pot and cover with about 2-inches of water. Add the garlic, sage, olive oil, and hot red chili pepper if using. Bring the water to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the beans. Cook the beans for approximately 2 hours or until they are soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Use the prepared beans in any recipe that calls for canned beans or freeze them for later use.