It’s winter, and you’re probably indoors a lot if you live near me in the Northeast US/Upstate NY. So why not cook up a batch o’ beans? Because it’s hard? No. Because it’s tricky? Not that either. Because I don’t know how. Well, it’s easy, and I’m here to tell you how, and encourage you to follow my lead here.
I like beans for several reasons. First, I don’t eat a lot of meat, and beans and greens, or beans and other things can make a dinner for me. Happily. I’m not talking a quinoa, brewers yeast, chia seed “feast.” It’s not weird. But a bowl of beans and greens, heavy on the garlic (a major food group for moi) is delicious. Truly. In the cold dead of winter, some bitter bracing broccoli rabe sautéed with garlic and red pepper flakes, and then braised a little with stock and beans is restorative in the soul-nurturing sense. Grated parmesan doesn’t hurt either.
Here are my favorite beans that I recommend cooking:
Cannellini, aka white kidney beans. They should not be called “kidney” anything because they are head and shoulders more delicious than those nasty minerally red kidney beans that star (?) in chili. Cannellini are all that’s best in a bean. Meaty, dense, mild and delicious, and a pleasure to eat. I confess I generally buy them canned, though they’re hard to find. Westbrae and Eden organic brands are my preference. The can is coated inside so the beans are not sitting against metal for eons. But now that it’s winter I — right now! — have beans cooking on the stove. Here’s how. And then I will get to other beans.
Take one pound of dried cannellini beans — Goya is fine, that will set you back less than two bucks. At night before bed, empty the bag into a large bowl in stages, looking through to pick out any beans that don’t look good to you — cracked, shrivelled, etc. And if there are any stones or other stray matter, discard that. (It’s a food product from the field; it can happen.) There are usually a couple beans in a bag you’ll want to remove, and this whole process at night takes all of two minutes or less, so don’t get discouraged yet! Fill the bowl of beans with water and drain into a colander. Put beans back into the bowl and add twice as much cold water as beans, or more. Cover with a plate (to keep out cats, etc) and go to bed. The next morning after your coffee or whenever, drain your now-plumped beans into that colander, rinse and put into a large pot. Cover with cold water 2-3 times the volume of beans.
Put pot on stove and turn heat to high. Cover and set timer for 15 minutes. If you feel like it, add bay leaf and some peppercorns (whole, not cracked). After several minutes, you will find foam rises to the top. Skim that off with a ladle into a small-ish bowl you have set near the sink. Do it again later.
When water comes to a boil, remove cover, turn down heat to low, and set timer for 55 minutes. What you will want is a gently simmering pot or no bubbles at all for the cooking time.
I have neglected my pot and come back to the kitchen and found a vigorously boiling pot and my beans broke up into pieces. Bummer. Don’t let that happen to you, by turning the pot down to low. Then once in a while, come into the kitchen, turn your pot up to medium to get some heat in, and stir gently with a wooden spoon to dislodge any beans thinking of sticking to the bottom of the pan. The beans will cook just fine at barely simmering or even no bubbles. If you get more foam, skim it off. These words are a more than the effort required to cook a pot of beans. As I said, as long as you keep the flame low, you will do fine. As a bonus, an hour of simmering water on your stove adds needed humidity to your heated home in winter.
When the beans are al dente, or not yet done — taste one — add some salt and stir. Don’t add salt early or it does something chemically to the beans to prevent the starch from breaking down/beans from softening. Or that’s what I hear. If you forget to add salt, no worries.
I said set the time for 55 minutes, because a fresh batch o’ beans will probably take about 1 hour to cook up tender. So start testing at 55 minutes, and then set the time for another 5 or 10 minutes, and repeat. Don’t rush.
Drain your beans, saving some of the cooking liquid to store them in, in the refrigerator and/or freezer. Frozen assets of the best kind!
I will address more varieties of beans in later posts, including lentils and split peas, which cook quickly and no soak needed!
Here are a couple recipes: