This is just a quick trick for working with one of my favorite kitchen assets: dried beans. Beans in general are awesome; they add a lot to your diet, they’re a great way to add texture and flavor to a meal, and there are so many different kinds to choose from. Part of the way that Rachel and I have been trying to live a little more simply (and healthy) is to eat a lot less meat in our diets. Beans are a great alternative, either as a direct substitute like in a bean burger, or just as a way to add richness of flavor where meat normally was.
So if you’re not eating beans much, you really should try them more often. I’ve heard a lot (and found it to be true) that the more you eat beans, the less you get some of the more… negative… side effects of digesting the little guys. If you just need to get started and put more of them in your diet, I’m a big fan of canned beans. They’re already cooked and softened and ready to go, and you can usually find brands without a lot of additives or preservatives.
On the other hand, there’s an even better way to go when it comes to beans: dry. I’ll admit that those bags of pebble-like legumes seem kind of difficult to work with, but once you figure it out, you’ll be glad you did. They’re a great alternative to canned beans, because you can control what goes into them, especially when it comes to salt. Also, from a budget/living simply perspective, dry beans are way more economical of an option. One small can of beans (a little less than 2 cups) usually costs in the neighborhood of $1, which can get you almost a pound of dry beans (which makes 4-5 cups cooked). You also get a great side benefit of a much richer and flavorful broth than the grayish goo that comes in the canned variety. That may not seem like a big deal, but when you’re making something like refried beans or a bean soup, you really notice the difference.
But the fact is, they’re harder to work with. Not-quite-cooked dry beans are chalky and unappetizing, and watching a pot for several hours to heat them up is just a pain. But recently I stumbled across an easy and low-maintenance way to handle the problem: the slow cooker.
Cooking dry beans in a slow cooker means that you can bring them to their wonderful soft state gently, and you also don’t have to be around to monitor the cooking process. You get the benefits of a rich broth, perfectly cooked beans, and the ability to cook as much as your cooker can fit. It’s great. I’ll often start them before I leave in the morning, and they’ll have more than enough time to figure themselves out by the time I get home that afternoon.
So here are the steps:
Boil the beans: I’m not a fan of the “soak overnight” method. It doesn’t really do very much, so it feels like too much thinking for very meager benefits. What I do is rinse the beans, dump them into a medium saucepan, cover with water, and bring to a quick boil (10 seconds or so once it gets bubbly). This has two effects: one is to do the work that a pre-soak might accomplish and get the beans started on softening. The other is to get the temperature high enough to break down the natural toxin that is sometimes associated with beans cooked at too low a temperature (kidney beans are the main culprit in this area).
Slow cook ‘em: Dump the boiled beans into your slow cooker and put on LOW heat for 5-6 hours. It might seem for awhile like this isn’t doing anything, but I’ve done it dozens of times and it always pleasantly surprises me. I’m pretty sure (but still studying the effects) that the slow, gentle cooking has a better effect on the whole gassy digestion issue than a quick simmer on the stove.
Optional – freeze the beans for later: This isn’t something you have to do, but I tend to make 2 or 3 times as many beans as I need for a given meal, so I can freeze some for the future. There have been plenty of times where we want to add some beans to eggs or chili or hummus and it’s great to just be able to pull them out of the freezer. There may even be a practical way to can your own beans at this stage, but I’m not confident enough in my canning skills at this point to say exactly how that should be done.
There you go — your awesome guide to help beans be an easier part of your life. Go try it out, you’ll be glad you did.
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