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

get cooking: basic cooked beans
Bean cooking times can vary wildly, even when within the same variety of bean. For everything except lentils, I always plan to be cooking for two to three hours. It may take less time (particularly with smaller and fresher beans, which can cook up in as little as an hour). Should that occur, fabulous! But for me at least, it's pretty rare that I've been able to get my beans cooked to the proper tender consistency in less than two hours (perhaps because my beans always seem to have been sitting around for ages before I get around to doing anything with them). Consequently, I save cooking dried beans for days when I know I have plenty of time and patience to let them slowly bubble away on the stove.

When you find yourself with just such a day, take your drained sorted beans (presoaked or not) and place them in a big pot with plenty of fresh water. Your beans should be thoroughly covered in water, and there should be a very generous amount of room in the pot for beans to expand and bubble away (remember, dried beans grow to at least double their size once soaked and cooked; even if you've presoaked, your cooked beans will get bigger during this cooking process). If cooking without presoaking, you'll need at least an extra inch of water on top.

Bring the water to a boil, skimming off the scummy foam that forms at the top and discarding it. Lower the heat to a very gentle bubble, and let the beans do their thing. You'll want to check on the beans from time to time -- say every fifteen minutes -- to monitor their progress, give the whole thing a stir, and add more water if the pot looks like it's drying out before the beans are fully cooked. Once the beans are beginning to get tender, add salt to taste; continue cooking until they've reached the desired consistency. (If you're planning to mash them, you might want them to be almost falling apart; if they're going in a salad, on the other hand, you'll probably need them to be firmer).
better than basic beans You can cook beans in just water and salt if you like, but for more flavor, you can also gussy them up with some additional ingredients. Try tossing any of the following into your big pot o' beans, alone or in judicious combination:

An onion, halved or quartered, fished out after the beans are cooked
Two bay leaves, fished out after the beans are cooked
A teaspoon of dried epazote, a Mexican herb that supposedly reduces flatulence, and provides a distinctive flavor as well
• A couple sprigs of fresh rosemary (esp. with white beans), fished out after the beans are cooked.
A couple slabs of bacon, removed after the beans are cooked

save it for later: storing cooked beans
You can use the beans straight away if you like, pretty much in the same way you'd use canned beans -- in salads, in soups, sautéed with herbs and spices, mashed into a dip, cooked up with rice … the possibilities are almost endless. But unless you're feeding a crowd, chances are good that your big pot of beans has provided far more bean than you could possibly eat in a single meal. Store the extra cooked beans by transferring them to small plastic containers, covering them in bean cooking liquid, and freezing for later use.


check out these related articles: 
the clueless cook's handbook | cooking on the cheap | souper duper
soup basics

check out some bean recipes:
lemony lentils | veggie enchilada | spicy vegetarian chili | caribbean beans and rice 

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