Friday, October 22

How, and Why, to Soak and Cook Your Own Beans

There's always a pot of beans soaking or cooking in The World's Tiniest Kitchen, and if I can do it here, trust me- you can do it anywhere! Cooking your own beans is easy, the most nutritious choice, cheaper by a long shot than buying canned beans, and despite popular belief, it's not actually time consuming. "Time consuming" means that something is taking up your time or taking time away from other tasks, and when it comes to soaking and cooking beans, it's rather a matter of very short periods of actual time spent interspersed with long periods of time when the beans are doing all the work and you don't even need to be in the room. So when you're ready to make that step and see just how easy, cheap, and deliciously nutritious homemade beans can be, read on!

Let's start with the why: when it comes to the intrinsic energy and quality of our food, we always want to consume food that is as close as possible to it's original state, when it came from the earth. Dried beans have simply been dried in their natural state and then sold- no salt or other preservatives, no chemicals or additives or flavorings, and no sitting around in liquid inside a can for long periods of time. Because they exist in this simplest of states and nothing has been added to them or done with them, they are also very cheap to buy in comparison with canned beans. You buy them in bulk, store them in airtight containers in a cupboard or on a shelf, and they last for months and even years! Aside from that, home cooked beans are easier to digest because the process of soaking and careful cooking descreases their gas-causing tendencies, so if you've experienced gas or indigestion with beans in the past, it's time to give home cooked beans a try.

And now for the how: simply measure out the dried beans you want to use depending on the recipe or use you have in mind, figuring that one cup of dried beans will feed about 3-4 people or servings. Place them in the bottom of a pot or bowl that has a lid, and cover them with plenty of fresh lukewarm water (at least twice as much water to beans). Add in either a bay leaf or a small strip of kombu seaweed (available at health food stores and Asian markets) to help break down the gas causing components of the beans, and nestle it under the beans. Cover with the lid, and leave for 8-10 hours. An ideal time to do this is either before you leave for work for the day so you can cook them when you get home, or before you go to bed at night so you can cook them the following morning or afternoon. Work and sleep are chunks of time already in your day when cooking prep like this can be happening on the side, with no effort! The time of soaking doesn't have to be exact- if you soak them for a little bit less than 8 hours or longer than 10 hours, that's ok, but don't soak them for up to 24 hours or more because they will start to sprout. During the soaking time, you don't do anything with them at all, you can be sleeping or not even home- meaning it takes less than 5 minutes total to measure them out, add water and a bay leaf or kombu strip and cover them, and you spend the next 8-10 hours the way you would anyway. See? Not bad so far.

After they've soaked 8-10 hours, drain them in a collander, discard the soaking water, and rinse them very well with fresh water. Reserve the bay leaf or kombu strip for cooking. Place the bay leaf or kombu strip at the bottom of a large pot with a heavy lid (enamel or cast iron pots work well), and top with the soaked washed beans as well as 3 times the amount of water per the amount of dried beans when you started, i.e. 3 cups of water if you started with one cup of dried beans before you soaked them. Bring to a boil uncovered and leave to boil uncovered for 15 minutes, occasionally checking on them and skimming off any foam that has formed on the surface of the water, discarding the foam. The longer you soaked the beans, the less foam there will be, if any. Then turn down the heat to low, cover the pot with the heavy lid, and simmer for a minimum of 1 hour and up to 90 minutes, depending on the kind of beans you are using (some are harder) and how long you soaked for (longer soaking shortens cooking time).

During this time, you don't need to be in the room watching them; they're just bubbling away on the stove- so while 60-90 minutes sounds like a long time, you're not actively cooking during that time at all. You can be in the other room helping with homework or showering and dressing for the day and tidying the house or answering emails. It's not an exact science when it comes to the length cooking time (are you seeing the pattern here? beans aren't fussy!) - the beans are done when they feel very soft to the touch and to the bite, but not mush. This means a minimum of one hour, but remember that well cooked beans are much easier to digest, so if you are someone who has often had indigestion with beans in the past, go for the full 90 minutes.

When finished cooking, strain and proceed to use in your recipe. However if you are cooking the beans for multiple uses over the course of one to several days, keep them in their cooking liquid in a glass or ceramic container with a lid in the refrigerator and strain out servings as you need them- the liquid keeps them from drying out. Home cooked beans can be kept in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, and can also be frozen for use at a later time. They are wonderfully handy to throw into soups, stews, casseroles, stir fries, salads, and all types of home cooked dishes.

So all told, the process of making beans from scratch does take hours- but you're only actively cooking or working for about 30 minutes of that. Once you get the hang of it, you'll be amazed at how easy it is and how you don't even notice the time passing, because you're doing your own thing the whole time and the beans are doing the work!

You will find that between the soaking, the bay leaf/kombu strip, the skimming off the foam, and the long cooking time, the beans are much easier for your body to digest than the ones being cooked en masse by a food manufacturer and sealed into a can with preservatives. Not to mention that home cooked beans save you a ton of money, and are better tasting and more pleasing in texture than beans out of a can, and best of all, you're giving your body this food in its closest to original state, which is always ideal. Closest to the source is best of course!

(All of this being said, canned beans are convenient, and it's ok to use them when you need to- but it's best to make your own whenever you can. If you do need to use canned beans or would like to simply have a few cans on hand for times when you haven't gotten a chance to make your own, buy a brand such as Eden Organics, which uses a safe can lining, avoids preservatives and additives, and includes kombu seaweed in their ingredients.)

Interested in finding out more about what foods are right for your own body and why? Looking for personalized information and support to help you change your eating and lifestyle choices in order to achieve your own specific goals for health and wellness? Contact me to set up a consultation:

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