By Maria Noël Groves, Clinical Herbalist & Wellness Educator
As you swing past the Co-op’s new bulk department, you’ll notice a wide variety of dry beans. The various colors and textures look so nice (and, well, co-op-y) in the bins, yet a lot of people head straight for the canned stuff for the sake of convenience. Truth is, dry beans really aren’t as inconvenient as people think. They’re also an absolute bargain, healthier, and better-tasting.
The secret is in the planning. We cook up one or two pints of beans a week to keep in the fridge as needed. I soak and simmer them while I’m doing other things; they really don’t require a lot of attention.
Choose Your Bean:You *could* use all beans interchangeably, but I prefer certain varieties for certain types of dishes. Here are our favorites, but feel free to experiment with the many other types at the Co-op. We usually use one batch of beans in a variety of ways for the week.
Chickpeas (aka Garbanzo Beans): Hummus, Italian dishes, Middle Eastern and Indian dishes, salads, fish dishes, quinoa dishes, sautéed with greens, scrambled with eggs/cheese/greens, ground up with veggies/egg/grain/cheese/herbs for veggie burgers
Pinto Beans: Tacos (including breakfast tacos with eggs), chili, Southwestern and Mexican fare, rice dishes, baked beans, bean dip (aka: pinto pate)
Black Beans: Same uses as pintos, but with a smaller, firmer texture that’s great for dishes like Texas caviar and to go with sweet potatoes and greens, also a secret ingredient for moist brownies
Black-Eyed Peas: Same uses as black beans, also Southern dishes like rice and greens, or sautéed with bacon
White Beans: They get mushy easily but are good for Italian dishes, dips and spreads seasoned with Italian herbs
Soak: This isn’t as hard as people think. Once you know what bean you want to use in dishes for the next few days, throw them in a pot and cover with double the amount of water. Let them soak on the counter or in the fridge for six to eight hours. For example, during the day while you’re at work (to cook at night) or at night while you’re sleeping (to cook in the morning). One of the nice things about dry beans is that you have control over how much beans you make. Expect them to double in size from dry to cooked.
Simmer: Drain the soaking water, and cover the beans with fresh water to about an inch above the “bean line.” Simmer on the stove, tasting occasionally for the desired done-ness. Most beans are done cooking in about 20 minutes. (I’m really not sure where all the recipes calling for two to three hours come from… maybe they’re using really old beans?) Remove from heat, stir in some salt if desired, and let sit for about 10 minutes before using in a dish or placing in a glass jar to store in the fridge.
Store: Salt will improve the flavor and help them keep longer in the fridge, but you may want to omit or limit it for health reasons. Cooked beans should keep at least five to seven days in the fridge. (You can also freeze them for later use, but I find they get lost in the freezer and don’t taste as good once thawed. It’s easy enough to make up a new batch.)
Start with some small batches so you can learn what you like and how to use the beans up during the week – and to get your digestive system used to beans – and then gradually increase. My husband and I are avid (localvore) carnivores, but beans now provide protein and fiber for the majority of our dinners (in place of or to lighten up meat dishes). It’s probably much better for our health and certainly better for our wallets and the planet. Enjoy!