Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Back To Basics...Beans 101

It's Tutorial Tuesday, and a gal named Nanette wrote me, asking how to cook a good pot of black beans. This one's for her and anyone who has ever wondered how to cook beans. So...lets talk about magical food. Beans. I teach basic cooking skills as well as advanced culinary arts. That's what I do. I'm a firm believer in the fact that if you may never know when you will be called upon to cook a staple food, or a fancy dish. Knowing the basics of something as simple as beans is something you will never regret. You may know how to make painted breads, but honestly, that isn't a daily need unless you run a bakery. You will always have to feed yourself or your family. Sometimes things may be financially tight, or you may be looking for a lean nutritional main dish. Food wise, you can't go wrong when it comes to beans. Their nutritional data can't be beat, especially fiber and calories when it comes to filling up hungry bellies and staying full! Beans are amazing food...unless of course, you don't cook them correctly. Then you have these crunchy bean shaped things in sauce...that frankly aren't very appealing. It reminds me too much of eating bugs. Yes, I also ate bugs as a kid. I know that explains a lot. As for beans, what you really want, is this...
Basic Bare Bones Boiled Beans
You will need:
1 lb of dry beans (pinto, black, white, black-eyed peas, kidney...)
1T baking soda (optional)
Flavor Options I use:
pepper, bay leaf, seasoning, garlic, onion, 2 roasted diced green chiles, and salt
Step 1:
Wash and soak* beans. Rinse with hot water and make sure there aren't any rocks or foreign matter in with your beans. Let's face it, they come from plants...there might be dirt. Clean it up. I soak my beans in a gallon of water with 1T of baking soda. I have found this step most useful in helping to break down the acids in the bean skins. They cook softer. After 8-24 hours of soaking, I drain the water, rinse again and put in a crock pot or the pot for my solar oven. Either one works, but most people don't cook solar. *Note, you don't have to soak beans, but it does help shorten the cooking time, as well as help with digestion "issues"...if you know what I mean. I think you do. You can "quick soak" beans by pouring boiling water over the beans and soaking one hour.
Step 2:
Place drained beans in 4 quart crock pot or stove top 6 quart pot. Cover beans with 6-8 cups very hot water and simmer. No salt is best at this point. No tomato products either. Salt added at this point will make it take longer for the beans to cook. Acid products like tomatoes will make it hard to cook period. To be sure, use just the water and the beans. If you use chicken stock to cook beans it adds flavor, just be sure it's low sodium. Okay...I say that and then I realize I use black pepper and bay leaf at this point as well. Okay...so it's okay to add Spanish seasoning like whole cracked black pepper, bay leaf, ground cumin, dry oregano, ground coriander (about 1/2 tsp each)...just not the salt until the end. Fair? You can also add a whole onion, with the "paper" skin removed. Just whole in with the beans. It sounds strange, but a Mexican gal I love showed me that trick and it's great for adding onion flavor without adding any chunks of onion...if you don't want chunks. Just remove the onion after cooking, and discard. I've also done this with a whole carrot and a whole celery stalk when I just want to add the flavor. You can also just add the dry onion, garlic, or dry vegetables, again being sure there isn't salt. A little won't hurt, but it again, will take longer to cook the beans. Yes...I know there are a lot of people who add pig to the beans. Salt pork, bacon, ham...all add salt and a nice smoky flavor. Do what you want, it will take a little longer (by 1-2 hours) if you add a lot of the salted meats. Add 3-4 drops of liquid smoke and you don't have to add meat at all. For black beans, I also add a dash of allspice, believe it or not, I really like the flavor in black beans.

Step 3:
Simmer 1 1/2 hours on stove top or 2 1/2 hours on high in the crock pot (3 hours in the solar oven). If you cook them on low temperature, it will take 4-5 hours. If you cook stove top, you may need to add additional water, be sure it is very hot, or the cooking time will increase. Yes you can pressure cook beans...they take 20 minutes that way, but that's another lesson.
Step 4:
Season. When cooking time is up, check to see if beans are soft before you add the salt and any additional seasoning blends that may have salt in them. This is also where I add roasted chopped green chiles to my beans. 2 large fresh roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped add immense flavor. If you can only find the cans of chiles, use one-2 small cans of diced green chile. If you want to add tomato products, now you may do so if the beans are tender.
Continue to simmer a few minutes.
Now this next part is me. Totally me. I love garlic in my beans. I love a very pronounced flavor of garlic in my beans, so I add it last. Fresh pressed, two cloves in my pot at the end of cooking. If you want a hint of garlic, but not a bold statement, then you can add fresh pressed at the beginning of cooking.

This is what we end up with.

Homemade beans on a homemade tortilla...is dinner for pennies. It's not fancy, but it may not be fancy you need. It may be just making it to the next paycheck without feeling deprived of good food. This my friends, is my gift to you. Enjoy a few more dollars back in your pocket. Fire up the crock pot or Solar Oven.
Oh, and one last note. Because beans are so high in protein, at the right temperature they are the perfect breeding ground for food born illness. Please be sure to cool them quickly. I put my beans in smaller bowls and leave the top vented when I cover them with foil so they will get cold quickly in the fridge. If you freeze, be sure to cool them in the fridge first and then transfer to the freezer, as to not overwork your freezer, and keep the beans at a safe temperature. One pound of dry beans will usually yield about 7 cups of cooked beans! That's enough for a family easily! Serve that with homemade rice-y-roni or regular rice...and you've done it. Dinner on the cheap.

There you go.


Nanette said...

YOU ROCK!! Thank you SO much for sharing your wisdom and passion for cooking!! I can't wait to try this recipe! As for freezing...other than cooling properly, any special instructions? How long can these beans remain safe to eat - fresh or frozen? Thank you!!

Chef Tess said...

Good in the fridge 3-4 days, or I freeze them in quart size freezer bags, laying flat in the freezer so they take less space. They will keep in the freezer 6-8 months. Defrost out of the bag in the microwave 5-7 minutes, stir half way through. Or, defrost 24 hours in the fridge and use in any recipe. Great questions!

mlebagley said...

I never knew that about beans being a breeding ground for bacteria if not promptly refrigerated. And that baking soda thing to help those of us with gassy issues. I know you have great genes and don't suffer with the family plague ;) but I appreciate you sharing your knowledge with those of us that do! Thanks!

Dave's Wife said...

we make these ALOT at our house. They are Dave's favorite food. But i NEVER knew about the Baking Soda . . . my prayers have been answered;0)

aswesow said...

I got to make a pitch for Lentils, since theres so many going into the ground this spring! You can do anything with them that you can do with beans,and more...but the cooking time and taste is better! The dirt and stones is a harvest issue...the pods are usually real close to the ground by the time you harvest, not like grains, and farmers can't wash them like potatoes! I was looking for a tutorial on refried beans to have with sprouted wheat tortilla's, but I'll be trying this, except of course with Grandma Lou's Lentils!

Chef Tess said...

Yes, lentils are one of my favorites! We use them for sloppy joes instead of meat and cook them in the crock pot so we get a lot. So...where does one get grandma Lou's Lentils? They must be wonderful!

Shae Ko said...

I cooked my very first pot of beans yesterday and it was a success! I ended up ladeling out the excess water from my crockpot and then mashing my beans in an effort to get them looking like the beans in you pictures, and it worked. Thank you. Now I can buy the really cheap bags of beans at the store instead of canned beans and yes, I will start freezing the leftovers.

Chef Tess said...

Shae, you are one of my favorite student still! It's sad we live so far apart now, but I love hearing about your grand adventures! Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I didn't know when to use the baking soda until now and my beans are already cooking in the crock pot. Can I add the soda while they are cooking?