Thursday, September 8, 2011

Counting Your Beans...


I enjoyed a nice weekend at my sister's home and discovered a cabinet full of canned beans (for her future pot of chili).  She explained to me that she always uses canned– she doesn't know how to "do" dry beans.  A can of beans can range from cents to over a dollar a can.  A bag of beans will cost you over a dollar usually but you get a lot more in return– additionally, you lose a lot of the sodium and many of the "added" ingredient.  Even more the cans beans purchased in tin cans may contain more BPA (Bisphenol A) than the plastics we've been pulling out of our toddlers mouths. BPA has been linked to breast cancer and early puberty in women.

Prior to my frugal self-education...I didn't even know that beans came from anywhere else but cans.  I didn't know how to "do" dry beans either.  So for all of you scared of dry beans take a chance...and avoid some yucky side effects when enjoying your chili.

How to Cook Beans

Put two cups of beans in a coliander and rinse clean--look for any twigs, rocks, or rotten beans and pull out and toss em' (you could compost the twigs and the rotten beans but not the rocks...)

Put the beans in a glass bowl and cover with water--place a lid or a towel over the beans (to keep bugs and dust out).  Let the beans sit overnight or 6-8 hours.

(If you don't have time or forgot to let them soak overnight--fill you tea kettle up with water and bring it to a sing--pour the hot water over the beans in a glass bowl and let it sit for an hour...should be ready to cook after that hour.)

After soaking beans pour water off (0r reserve this water if recipe specifically calls for it– otherwise assume you are going to cover them again with fresh water)

Beans can be cooked in several ways; slow cooker, stove, or pressure cooker.  I typically use the first method so food can cook while I'm doing other things.  I just inherited a pressure cooker and so I'll let you know how it goes.  I'm sure some people have cooked beans in the oven as well....I just haven't experienced that...maybe someday I'll find an obscure recipe that calls for it...maybe over the campfire in a cowboy hat as's an adventure who knows?  Okay back to the beans...

Follow your recipe–this will involve covering beans with some type of liquid...for chili I just cover with water and add my spices, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and some corn at the end.  If I start a pot of beans on the crock pot in the morning I cook on low all day– if you have a half day (6 hours) cook beans on high.  

On the stove your beans can be done in a little over an hour or two on simmer (I usually try to get them done a little faster and boil them and then simmer).  

Here is the trickiest part about beans....OLD BEANS WILL NEVER GET SOFT!!!!!  If your bean are over a year old they are useless to you as food.  They make great art for the kids however or a delightful bean bin for little ones to enjoy some tactile learning....and again back to the cooking part

For years I thought I would never be able to cook beans they always stayed hard for me...because they were always ancient...I get an idea in my head to cook with some and forget about them, until over a year later when I would get the same notion...but then I would feel like a failure with my pot of hard beans...beans will soften if they are fresh– so give yourself a break if you've ever had that disaster didn't know and now you do.

Were really about done-- on your first go with slow cooker beans you will want to stay close to home (maybe try it on a weekend).  The liquid cooks down and so you will want to practice a little so you know how much liquid to keep in there so they don't dry out or burn.  I end up drowning my beans so I rarely ever have had to worry about this (but I like my drowned...they are tasty that way).  Refried beans are really the one time you do need to pay a little closer attention and since I know that you've now got a black-belt in bean basics I'm going to give you my rock star awesome refried beans need to yo quiero T. Bell  anymore....

Slow Cooker Refried Beans

1 onion peeled and chopped
3 cups dry pinto beans (0r black beans), rinsed
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (optional if you like it warmer– I sometimes add a dried chile pepper and take it out prior to mashing–it makes it just about right for my kids who don't like things too hot)
2 tablespoons minced garlic or 1 tablespoon garlic powder
3 teaspoons salt (more if you like)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin 
9 cups of water

1. Place all ingredients in the slow cooker and stir.  Cook on high for 8 hours (add more water as needed).  If your water is evaporating too quickly turn your slow cooker down.
2. When beans are cooked strain them but make sure to RESERVE THE LIQUID.  Mash the beans with a potato masher or large fork (add the reserve water as needed to get them to the consistency you desire)....

Happy eating!

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