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hill o' beans 
how to cook dried beans
by Yee-Fan Sun |
1 2 3 4
continued from page 1

beans you'll most likely encounter…
Dried beans come in an astounding variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Here are a few of the ones you're most likely to see at your friendly neighborhood grocery store:

Pinto beans | A medium-sized bean with a pinky-beige exterior that's mottled with brown. Pinto beans have a good smooth texture and nice flavor, and work well either whole or mashed. This is the standard bean for burritos, chili, and refried beans (although black beans can make a fine alternative).
Kidney beans (a.k.a red beans) | These very pretty beans have a deep burgundy-red color and an elongated kidney (duh) shape. They're a bit bigger than pintos, but are often used as an alternative (in the northeastern US where I grew up, they even seem to be the chili bean of choice … shudder. Personally, I far prefer the traditional pinto for Mexican and Tex-Mex recipes). To my tastebuds, they always seem just the slightest bit mealy in texture, but their flavor is good. They're the quintessential Southern bean, and a must for the yummy red-beans-and-rice dish that's popular in Louisiana Creole/Cajun cuisine.
Black beans (a.k.a. turtle beans) | These beans have a slightly shiny, inky-black exterior; despite their smallish size, they always seem to take forever to cook through. But the wait is worth it. The texture is lovely and dense, the flavor earthy with a hint of sweetness. Black beans are probably my favorite beans, and an absolute staple in my pantry.
Navy beans (a.k.a white beans, pea beans) | These small white beans are the basis for Boston baked beans, and can also be used in soups and salads.
Cannellini beans| This large white bean is essentially a white version of the kidney. It's often used in Italian cooking and pairs really well with rosemary.
Lentils | Lentils are very small, flat, and round, and come in a range of colors. The greenish-brown and red varieties are probably the most common; while each is very tasty, they cook up quite differently. The green/brown ones hold their shape well even after a long cooking time, while the red ones tend to break down and yield an appealingly creamy texture. Both are excellent to have around in the cupboard, as they're the rare dried bean that actually takes less than 45 minutes to cook. Lentils work great in soup, or cooked up with Indian spices and served with rice.

what's in store: storage tips
Once you've bought your dried beans and brought them back home, store your beans in a tightly sealed container at room temperature. Leftover spaghetti jars work dandy, and as an added bonus, the beans will look mighty pretty sitting in their clear glass jars on your kitchen counter (of course, should you wish to conserve precious counter space, the jars can also be popped into a cabinet). Do be aware that while dried beans will keep a good long time, they take longer and longer to cook the older they get. A year is probably the longest you should let those dried beans sit before you use them. Also, avoid mixing old and new beans, as your beans will cook unevenly.

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