Oh, you little beans…tiny little buds. So good, yet so disdained. Here is one thing I know about beans: most people use canned. In fact, I daresay most people think it’s a complete and utter waste of time to cook dried beans.
As I softly boiled turtle beans for Blackened Corn Quesadillas (I needed the photo for an upcoming recipe on our menu), I wondered if people would genuinely be annoyed that I am making them boil beans from scratch. But one bite of the finished product convinced me that it’s worth the nominal effort.
So I feel I need to set the record straight. Here is why cooking dried beans is better than canned, and easier than you think:
1. Forget about overnight soaking. Trying to remember to soak beans the night before is a joke. I’d need to set a reminder on my phone if I’m expected to remember something like that. Despite common beliefs, you can soak them in the fridge for a good five days or so.* Mainly, you don’t want them in there so long they sprout. Otherwise, if you know you need them that week, throw the bowl (of beans covered with water) in the fridge and they’ll be good and soaked when you are ready to use them.
2. Amp the flavor with seasoning. When you soak and cook your own beans, you can add all kinds of wonderful seasoning to enhance the flavor. I am a fan of boiling beans with avocado leaf and coriander seeds in South American dishes. You can boil in flavorful broths like chicken, mushroom, beef, or vegetable. Or throw in some chili peppers so the beans lend a light heat to the dish. Get creative.
3. Say no to mush. Canned beans are soft to begin with. Forget about simmering canned beans in a slow cooker, they will disintegrate. Cooking your own beans lets you incorporate them into the dish in a way that canned can’t compete.
4. Running out of gas. Ah, the question of flatulence. Do beans make you gassy? Does preparing them this way or that affect how gassy they make you? There are tons of opinions on the topic. I read somewhere that adding kombu (dried seaweed) while soaking and cooking the beans increases digestability, and have to agree that there have been no smelly incidences since. I was a little worried that the beans would taste like seaweed, but after they are boiled they just taste like beans. Discard the kombu when the beans are done.
…and the final debate, the argument of time…
5. Bean time = prep time + cook time. The fact that I cook at home very frequently probably makes me a faster prep than many, but I am no Iron Chef. I have found — recipe after recipe — that if I get the beans boiling on the stove before I begin washing and chopping the other ingredients, they are done cooking by the time they are needed in the recipe.
So there. Maybe I can convince one person that recipes asking you to cook your own beans are not evil. That you should put down the can and head to the bulk section and revel in the new era of flavorful, digestible and easy to cook beans.
*Don’t leave soaked beans out on the countertop more than 10 hours or so. That’s not good. The water will spoil and they will probably start to sprout after two days. Even if you want to intentionally sprout your beans — which is very healthy and a great addition to salads, by the way! — you need to change the water frequently.