How to Cook Beans – Stovetop Version
Cooked beans, like cooked rice, are an ingredient I tend to refer to casually – something I usually have around, to toss into soups, sautes and salads. And a reader on Facebook requested that I tell you about how to cook beans and store them for later use.
First, understand that you can use canned beans. I do always have a couple of cans in the cabinet, for use if I haven’t prepared, and they do work. But I prefer to cook my own.
If I cook beans, they are less expensive, the uncooked ones take less room (and are decorative – I have jars on the back of my stove in all colors) and I can have greater variety (though I confess that most of the time I use a handful of standbys – however, the options are there, and I do sometimes vary them.) And I strongly prefer the texture of my own cooked beans. I find canned beans are often sort of oddly mushy, but with an undercooked core.
Also, there is the issue of what is delicately referred to as Digestive Disorders (aka gas.) I never have trouble with beans I cook myself – I do, sometimes, with canned beans. (I suspect that undercooked core…) I am giving you here the method that most sources I’ve seen recommend as most likely to avoid such issues.
This does take time, but it isn’t *your* time… You do need to be around, and able to check on it while it simmers, but you can cook something else, or read, or whatever.
Start the night before (or first thing in the morning, really, and then cook the beans for dinner.) Put beans, one scoop at a time, in a strainer and carefully pick over, and wash. This are navy beans, also known as pea beans.
Now – this is a picture I took a few months ago, and saved for a post about beans, and yes, that is a small black stone in the beans. And that was a standard supermarket brand in a bag, not some bulk or bought-from-the-farm or other funky variety… They’re rare, but you do find them, so yes, you really do need to go through the beans and look. You’d hate to chew on that… I’ve also found clumps of dirt – not a risk to my teeth, but not something I want in my food, either. More often, I find a different type of bean (which I may not care about) or one that’s a little discolored, which I remove in case it is moldy. Then I pour cold water over the beans, rinsing them well, put them in the pot, and repeat with more beans. When they are all washed, I cover them with plenty of cool water, cover the pot or bowl, and leave them to soak overnight (or all day…)
In this case, I soaked them all night and the next morning. I started cooking in early afternoon, after lunch. First, I drained the beans. You don’t have to – but it helps wash away some of the starches that people have trouble digesting. Then I put them back into my soup pot, and covered them generously with water. Then I put the pot on a burner and brought it to a boil.
Now – you see the foam? This is much more than usual – these seem to have been starchy beans, for some reason, despite the wash – but it’s good to see this so you know that it can happen. And it’s the reason beans boil over very easily – don’t go far when the pot is over high heat… I lowered the heat and skimmed the foam off with a skimmer – a mesh gadget made for skimming broths and the like. You can also use any spoon. You can also just leave it – it won’t hurt you – but it is more likely to keep boiling up… I’d suggest removing it.
At this point, lower the heat until the pot reaches a rolling simmer. You do want to see movement in the water, but it shouldn’t be at a full boil. Then, partially cover the pot – but leave plenty of room for steam to escape, to prevent boil over. (And keep a close eye on it for a while, to be sure you’ve hit the right level of heat.)
Check the beans after about an hour. The time it takes is going to vary a lot – by kind of bean (chick peas and kidney beans tend to take longer than others, for instance,) by how long it soaked, by how old the bean itself is (older beans take longer – and you usually don’t know how long they’ve been sitting around the store) and by temperature. You also may want different levels of tenderness, depending on what you are going to use the beans for. Making soup, you may want to simmer until they fall apart, but if you plan to marinate them and put them in a salad, you don’t want them too mushy. In this case, I cooked them for an hour and a half, until they were very soft, as I will make most of them into spreads, and want them soft enough to mash easily.
I let these cool in the cooking liquid. Then I used a slotted spoon to remove them, and fill two pint containers. Again – if I were going to cook them again I might cover them with liquid – if I were going to freeze for several weeks or longer, I would definitely cover them with water to prevent freezer burn. As it is, I’m freezing both of these, but expect to use them in a week or two. There was about a cup of beans left in the pot – I used it a little later for dinner.
As I said, I plan to use these for spreads or dips, similar to hummus. They have a pleasant but mild flavor that blends well with seasoning or other vegetables, and I may use them with scapes, this year, instead of chick peas. I might mash some up, probably with lemon juice and garlic, and heat them like refried beans, to serve with eggs. I sometimes add a splash of vinegar to a container of beans, both to marinate them and to keep them from going off, and then add them a spoonful at a time to salads. I can make a quick soup from the already cooked beans – just add broth, seasonings, and vegetables.
And I can pull together a quick dinner, the way I did here. I sauteed onion and spinach, added all the beans left in the pot, and some cooked chicken breast, added some of the cooking liquid, and let the whole thing simmer a while. Then I served it over millet (which cooks more quickly than brown rice!) White beans go beautifully with chicken, and we’ll be eating many variations of this.